If you bet £100 on Juventus to win Serie A at the start of the season, you would probably still have precisely £100. Predicting them to win the Coppa Italia, Serie A and Champions League would have certainly earned you quite a bit more. They have claimed their first silverware of the season, on the cusp of their sixth successive Serie A, and are in their second Champions League final in three years. As the Juventus machine rolls on, their controversial history seems a distant memory.
The Calciopoli scandal began in 2004 with rumours that certain Serie A clubs had been taking part in illegal betting. Allegations also included the corruption of match officials which the clubs themselves had been selecting. Juventus was at the forefront of investigations and the scandal came to a head in 2006. AC Milan were handed points deductions and European bans. However, Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio were immediately relegated on top of their points deductions. Adding insult to injury, Juventus’ 2004-05 Scudetto was also stripped.
In a turbulent period for the club, some players stayed loyal and would go on to become the spine of an unstoppable team. Club legends such as Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon, and future Vice-Chairman Pavel Nedved all stayed and fought their way back to the top.
Inevitably, the Old Lady rose from the ashes and used the negative reputation gained from the scandal to their advantage. Antonio Conte – who would coach them to an undefeated season in 2011-12 – harnessed the negativity of the media to motivate players. Andrea Pirlo writes in his autobiography that Conte wanted to thank the journalist who called Juventus the ‘most unlovable team in the world’. To him, it meant teams feared them. This tactic has undoubtedly worked as Juventus have steamrolled any opposition since then. It is one thing to win a league title, but it is a whole other ball game (shameless pun) to dominate year in, year out. To assert such dominance, various factors need to fall into place.
As the Juventus resurgence took place, it coincided with the complete collapse of both Milan clubs. The 2007 Champions League-winning AC Milan side was now ageing, and legends which left were not replaced. Clarence Seedorf, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta; all players which left a void difficult to fill even if Milan had the finances to do so. The free-flowing cash of the 90’s was now a distant dream. Key players such as Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva were sold to keep the club afloat. Nowadays, Milan focus on their Primavera youth side for talent, which probably is not a bad approach if Gianluigi Donnarumma is anything to go by.
In the blue side of Milan, Inter were also feeling the effects of the 90’s hangover. By 2011, losses totalled €1bn. Financial Fair Play meant that sanctions were inevitable and so Inter too were forced to sell their most valuable assets. To make matters worse, the Milan clubs could not shy away from their country’s economic problems with lavish TV deals (we’re looking at you Premier League). Six years later, both clubs cut a sorry sight as they battle for the last European qualification spot.
In contrast, Juventus’ savvy and modern transfer policy is fundamental to their success. President Agnelli does not just splash the cash, he buys smart. Any team which loses players such as Paul Pogba, Alvaro Morata and Arturo Vidal should logically be weaker. Yet, Juventus have a canny (and no doubt annoying to the rest of the league) ability to replace any player which leaves. For every €90 million Gonzalo Higuaín, there is a smart buy in Miralem Pjanic or Dani Alves, with the latter being one of the best free transfers ever. The club also has a frankly ridiculous number of up-and-coming young talents, numbers which rival even Chelsea in the ‘How Many Players Can We Have On-Loan’ league. The mix of the old guard inspiring the younger players means Juventus fans can rest easy once the veterans of the team retire.
Conte has also masterminded the modern-day three-at-the-back system which has gone from taboo to the latest tactical craze. The all-Italian back three is the very definition of pragmatism and stability. In typical Italian fashion, everyone knows their jobs and does them well. Now under the eye of Massimiliano Allegri, the Juventus team work like clockwork. The moving and pressing as one fluid unit draw similarities to the way Rinus Michels’ infamous Ajax team pioneered ‘Total Football’. Since promotion, the club has won five successive Serie A titles and three Coppa Italia trophies. It is surely only a matter of time before they clinch that elusive Champions League. Might stick £100 on it.