Richard Hall of The Gentleman Ultra charts the journey and how it all happened
The trip from Turin to Milan couldn’t have been more of a contrast that weekend.
It’s 2007 and after watching Juventus having disposed of Mantova at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, a day later in San Siro, it was time to witness a star studded Inter team celebrate the Scudetto win. The world of Italian football looked set in the grey stone of the Giuseppe Meazza. Things would get better for the Nerazzurri as a treble followed three years later but between now and then ‘The Old Lady’ came back to stare at a potential treble of her own and her evolution in that time has been phenomenal.
In the late 1990’s Juventus were in the process of trying to loosen Milan’s grip on domestic and European honours.
A UEFA Cup had been won early in the decade but now Scudetti, Coppa Italia’s and a Champions League followed. Played out in the unloved and mainly empty Stadio Deli Alpi, Italy’s biggest club ended the decade being a match for any in Europe. The early 2000’s were in full swing, and Juventus were looking for a new trophy cabinet but this would all come to a halt with Calciopoli.
The Bianconeri were embroiled as in the scandal and as chief protagonists they were relegated to Serie B and along with this stripped of two titles. Now playing in front of an average 18,000 people in the Stadio Olimpico in Turin (often more than in the Deli Alpi) they faced the Italy’s second tier teams with gusto. Watching their rivals in Milan lift the Scudetto with some of their old players like Zlatan Ibrahimović and Patrick Vieira hurt but there was hope. Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon, David Trezeguet and Giorgio Chiellini were but a few who stayed and they would soon be out of Serie B as Champions and what’s more there was a new stadium on the horizon.
The transition back to Serie A was not as simple as maybe first thought. Despite finishing second in their first year they did not really look like taking on the status quo until 2010. This was for three reasons. Firstly, the Juventus Stadium was nearly ready and a year later would break the mould in Italy as it would be one of the most modern and certainly the most profitable in the country. Media outlets, amenities and outlets for food and merchandise were complemented by a stadium that could accommodate, family, Ultra and corporate a like. This Bundesliga style stadia was a revolution on the Peninsula and still to this day hasn’t been matched.
Secondly, whilst modernising the Stadia they also shook up the management structure and employed a fresh-faced team (many non-Italian) who would team up with the traditional family ties. Finally, Antonio Conte arrived and it was this combination that would allow the Turin giants to become that once again. The former defensive midfielder would restore domestic domination, picking up three Serie A titles and two SuperCoppa Italianas. His industrious 3-5-2/5-3-2 soon became a symbol of this new Juventus team and with additions like Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and controversially at the time (many thought he was finished) Andrea Pirlo.
Conte would suddenly walk away from Juventus when he fell out with the board over the transfer policy. He argued that he could not compete against Europe’s elite with his current crop of players and after the club refused to promise him infinite funds they parted company. Conte’s tactical ability in Europe (it was too one dimensional) was criticised and many still argue the walk out lack of funding was partly an excuse.
Of all the people that Juventus fans thought their club would employ to follow Conte, Max Allegri was not even on the list. His appointment was greeted with scorn, despair and anger and his car was even spat at upon his arrival. The man sacked by Milan certainly had a job on his hands but he approached with a professionalism that took his team to the next level. He left the system alone and as expected, the team kept winning. Conte’s legacy was one worth keeping and he did not tinker with a winning formula despite having his own ideas. Only when the team slipped up against Genoa in week nine, did he unleash his tactical approach using four at the back.
This interchangeability did not just offer up a solution that helped the side develop domestically, it helped them in Europe. This was proven in the 2014/15 campaign when despite all the odds they reached the Champions League Final. The strong (and appropriate) pressing, much of it down to Tevez was mixed with a delectable ability to control the game from deep orchestrated by the resurgent Andrea Pirlo. The traditional back line also made them hard to beat, ‘The Old Lady’ had a new dimension.
Despite losing to Barcelona in that final, Allegri and the club showed that once again they would be able to evolve. Tevez left not long after as did the likes of Pirlo and Vidal yet they were able to move on. This continual ability to look to the next breed of Champions has seen them able to withstand losing players like Paul Pogba whilst they keep winning. They may have (as in the case of Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain) continued to pillage their neighbours for their next targets but this approach has allowed them to win the Scudetto in second gear whilst being able to focus their main efforts of Europe.
Whilst the rest of Serie A has found investment, developed their brand to a small extent (see Inter and Roma for notes) and have improved their stadiums, in fewer cases like Sassuolo and Udinese, Juventus are the only ones to do all of this. Just look at their match day revenue, their branding, the new logo and the fact that the board, fans and team alike were all together through various hashtags hammered out by social media through this Champions League campaign. Juventus have come a long way, it’s a long way from that balmy day in 2007 against Mantova this wasn’t a revolution oh no, it was an evolution keeping the traditions of the old mixed with the essentials of the modern game.
Words Richard Hall