The rise of Juventus - From Serie B to Champions League final in 9 years
In life in general and football in particular, miracles do happen. The latest episode of football’s miracles will be played out when a few weeks from now, the Old Lady from Turin will turn up against the might of Barcelona in the final of the Champions League.
Yes, the Champions League final. The same tournament which is supposed to be the playground of the Cristiano Ronaldos and the Lionel Messis, the Jose Mourinhos and the Carlo Ancelottis. Playing against the big boys of Europe, Juventus had no business being here. But, let alone only playing the Champions League final, they have also won the Italian league for the 4th consecutive time and by also being in the final of the Italian Cup, they stand on the verge of a historic treble.
From playing in the Seria B in 2006-07, Juventus have indeed come a long way.
The Old Lady’s downfall
Before 2006, Juventus had always competed at the highest level in both Italy as well as Europe. In fact, even today, they are the most successful Italian Club in history with 31 titles.
But, in 2006, Calciopoli happened. And with it, it seemed that Juventus were destroyed forever. Stripped of the previous 2 Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B because of their involvement in the worst fixing scandal to have hit football till date, Juventus looked down and out.
Their revenue became negligible compared to other European superpowers, and it was proving to be difficult for them to even pay wages. Some players did leave. But the core of the team did not.
“A true gentleman never leaves his lady,” was the answer that Juve and Italy legend Alessandro Del Piero gave when asked why he choose to stay with Juventus and play in the Italian second division. Not only Del Piero, others like Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved also stayed back, and taking massive pay cuts along the way. Together they ensured that Juventus did win the promotion back to Serie A straightaway.
And remarkably, in their first season back in the Serie A, they finished 2nd. But in the years that followed, it became obvious that it would not be easy for Juve to regain their lost glory in both Italy and Europe.
Antonio Conte was appointed as the manager. And he started the revival. With young players like Claudio Marchisio, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini maturing, and Buffon, like all great goalkeepers getting better with age, Juventus had a base. Add to that a few brilliant signings in Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo, and suddenly Juventus became the team to beat in Italy.
In fact, in the last 4 years they have dominated the Italian league like never before. But Juve still seemed a long way from competing with Europe’s true giants.
Again a managerial change seemed to have done the trick. Massimiliano Allegri took over after Conte resigned this year citing a lack of funds to compete against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
“You cannot eat in a 100 $ restaurant with 10$ in your pocket”, Conte had remarked. And he was correct to some extent. Juventus did not have the funds either to attract the best players or to keep their best players from moving out. In fact, it was a huge surprise that Vidal did not move out despite so many speculations linking him to Europe’s top clubs.
Allegri made key additions to the side. Patrice Evra and Alvaro Morata have both played superbly in Juve’s run to the final. The number one reason for their success in Europe has been their superb midfield. The combination of Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio has been outstanding this season.
Combine that with the goalscoring prowess of Tevez and Juve’s resolute defence, and you will figure out why they are in the Champions League final. Not many gave them a chance against Dortmund. They destroyed Dortmund. No one gave them any chance against Madrid. But throughout the 180 minutes, they looked a much better team than the superstars of Madrid.
It might not remain the same for Juve next season. The core of the team is old. There will be a maximum of one more season for Evra, Buffon and Pirlo. Tevez will also not be there for too long.
Madrid has a buyback clause for Morata. Pogba and Vidal are courted by Europe’s best clubs. Since Juventus comes nowhere close to Europe’s bigger clubs when it comes to financial clout, they cannot do much when the big boys lure their best assets offering astronomical wages.
But, all these things can wait for next season. If Buffon and his boys are able to ward off Messi and co on the 6th of June and the lift the Cup after a wait of 19 long years, one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of football will be complete. Not that it matters any less as of now.