Is this the end of an era for Juventus after struggles in Europe?
What’s next for Juventus? Where do they go from here?
The short and swift answer is this: Benevento on Saturday. There is no time to dwell on Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid. “We need to react,” said Massimiliano Allegri. “We can’t risk it compromising our season.”
Juventus are involved in the closest title race in Europe’s top five leagues. In spite of extending their lead to four points at the weekend, their run-in is up-hill. The Old Lady still has to play Inter, Napoli and Roma, not to mention Milan in the Coppa Italia final.
The problem Juventus have, after winning the Scudetto six years in a row, is that it gets taken for granted. The success or failure of a campaign is now judged by what the Bianconeri do in Europe and for the first time since Allegri arrived, it feels like progress on the continent has halted.
Even in 2016, when Juventus exited a round earlier at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, the performance at the Allianz Arena was so convincing it left supporters and media alike thinking that further strides had been made. Juventus had elevated to a higher plane. Reaching the final last season was less of a surprise than it was in Allegri’s first. The Old Lady not only felt like she belonged. She believed it was her time.
The overconfidence and underestimation of Madrid on the eve of the final in Cardiff is striking in hindsight. Madrid did more than just win that game; they planted a seed of doubt where Allegri had cultivated belief. All of a sudden, the pessimism he’d excised from Juventus’s mindset in Europe crept back in. Maybe not among the players, but definitely among supporters and the press. It’s why Allegri recommended anyone disappointed by the 2-2 draw with Tottenham at the J-Stadium should go and see a doctor. He couldn’t understand the depression it caused. But in saying that, there is a lack of realism bordering on delusion.
For all Antonio Conte was ridiculed for saying Juventus in the Champions League are like a punter eating in a €100 restaurant with €10 in their pocket, there is a grain of truth to it.
The latest Deloitte rich list ranks Juventus only 10th in the world. Revenues have grown 125 percent over the last five years. But the ground lost between 2006 and 2011 when the Calciopoli scandal broke, relegation happened and the Old Lady stumbled to back-to-back seventh-place finishes remains significant and all too easily forgotten. People forget what Juve went through and the lasting impact it has had. As the club’s president Andrea Agnelli said last year, Juventus have one foot in first class and the other in second: “The risk is to stay trapped in the middle.” And yet, Juve are so well-run and so brilliantly packaged that their economic reality often goes overlooked.
Reaching two Champions League finals in three years may not be unexpected for a club of Juve’s history. It’s enough to cast your mind back to the 1990s when they went to three in a row. In those days though Juve were more or less matching Manchester United as the wealthiest club in the world. They’re far from that now, though. What Allegri has done in Europe is help the Old Lady punch above her weight and over-perform. Appreciation for that could be greater and will perhaps only come with time.
The papers in Italy are talking about a rifondazione this summer, something that goes beyond a “rebuild.” The last time it was used in relation to Juve was pre-Conte and it’s the sort of word that describes what the Milanesi have needed to do every summer for the last six years: the laying of new foundations. It feels a bit over the top and overlooks the fact Juventus have been in a constant state of reconstruction since 2015.
Aside from Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio and Stephane Lichtsteiner, no-one is left from Conte’s first Scudetto winning team. The turnover from Berlin to Cardiff alone is huge. Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal departed in 2015. They were followed by Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata in 2016, then Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves in 2017. That Juventus have been able to sustain success in that period is remarkable when you think of Spurs post-Gareth Bale, Liverpool post-Luis Suarez, Atleti and Dortmund post-everyone, all of which are teams with similar budgets. It’s harder than it looks.
For all the ways in which Juve have normalised change, this summer feels like a big one for them. Allegri has signed a contract until 2020 but it’s reasonable to think Tuesday’s game might give him pause for thought. Does he still feel he has unfinished business in Turin or is it time for a new challenge?
Captain Buffon is set to retire. His succession has already been planned for, with Wojciech Szczesny doing more than just deputising this season. Mattia Caldara will join Daniele Rugani in learning the ropes from Chiellini and Barzagli. Maybe Atleti’s Jose Gimenez will, too. Leonardo Spinazzola is expected to replace Alex Sandro, given that the Brazil left-back has played all season as if his head was turned by the Premier League last summer. The midfield will likely get younger too, with Marchisio’s future in doubt and an offer reportedly sitting on Emre Can’s table. There’s talk of Antony Martial arriving, but this is speculation and futurology.
Even though Tuesday night’s chastening defeat to Real Madrid has provoked plenty of soul-searching, the present is not doom and gloom. Far from it. It’s a measure of how far Juve have come in the past four years, the standards they have set and the expectations they have raised that this even feels like disappointment.
Losing 3-0 to Madrid doesn’t make them a bad team anymore than City’s defeat to Liverpool did on Wednesday. It was a bad night at the office for both of them and lest we forget, this competition is as unforgiving as it gets.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.
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