Peculiar Juve-Inter spectacle underlines importance of fan power
- The empty stands as Juventus claimed a crucial win over rivals Inter offered a reminder of how vital fans are to the football experience.
If a pivotal game in the Serie A title race takes place and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
As it turns out, yes it does. Plenty of them – both expected and unusually clear all at once.
There were speculative shots from Inter midfield trio Matias Vecino, Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic – ballooned unhelpfully into the Allianz Stadium stands to prompt a plastic rattle from the empty seats.
Cristiano Ronaldo's radar was in better working order as his fierce strike thudded into Samir Handanovic's gloves with a slap.
Midway through the first half Ashley Young thundered into a robust challenge on Juventus' Juan Cuadrado, producing a dead thud of boots on leather and bones against flesh.
These familiar sights in Italy's most famous game unfolded in an alien setting of isolation, with the ban on attending sporting events in the country as a means to tackle the spread of coronavirus given its most high-profile stage to date.
This was the Derby d'Italia – the grandest game of all in a football-mad country. By necessity it was reduced to incongruous spectacle that frequently jarred the senses.
It was hard not to feel for Aaron Ramsey when he pounced to net the breakthrough goal, a wonderfully instinctive piece of penalty-box play that put Juve on the way to a 2-0 win and the Serie A summit.
They are one point clear of surprise package Lazio and now nine better off than Inter, whose Scudetto race is probably run, even with a game in hand for Antonio Conte's side.
Ramsey's was the sort of strike that in normal circumstances has a chance of being a "moment" goal. The moment fans know glory is within reach, the split second where anxiety gives way to elation and the prize comes within reach.
A goalscorer in two separate FA Cup final wins for Arsenal and a midfield driving force in Wales' improbable run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, the 29-year-old already has enough dizzying career highs to sustain him when retirement arrives.
But his key contribution against Inter should have been met with pandemonium in the stands, much like Paulo Dybala's sublime point-proving solo goal from the bench, just as Ronaldo's shot should have garnered roars where Inter's wayward attempts earned goading whistles.
As it happened, the only "woo hoo" came from Damon Albarn, as Juve's in-stadium team bizarrely retained their preference of spinning Blur's Song 2 when their side score.
Of course, there are far more important things at play in Italy and beyond than the emotional experience of elite footballers, when diagnoses and death tolls continue to climb.
But if a positive can be taken from this period of closed doors in Serie A, it should be the loud and clear reminder of just how central supporters are to the whole football experience; of the inimitable meaning paying punters give to the deeds of all-star millionaires.
These are people who find their personal schedules shunted around by kick-offs moved to please international television audiences, who watch on as Super Cup encounters are staged in far-flung lands and who tolerate processional one-club dominance of domestic competitions in the super-club era.
The vacant stands of this unique and troubling moment will not be repeated in the seasons to come, but when normal service resumes we will continue to see far too many examples of supporters being taken for granted and their attachment to their beloved sport undermined to the point of apathy.
Beneath every iconic footballing moment is a soundtrack of supporter ecstasy, which is exactly why Ramsey and Dybala's goals within Juventus' best display of 2019-20 are likely to fade from the collective memory. Sunday offered a demonstration of the emptiness that would remain if you remove a soul already being chipped away at piece by piece.Published 09 Mar 2020, 03:50 IST