Nine years ago, the Serie A was rocked by the now infamous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. It was rocked so badly that it looked almost impossible to truly celebrate Italy’s triumph over France in the 2006 World Cup final. It was a true Jekyll and Hyde moment for Italian football.
The scandal involved a handful of Italy’s top teams such as Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina, but no team had the book thrown at them as hard as Juventus, who were the league champions. Milan, Lazio, Reggina and Fiorentina were all docked points but were allowed to play in the top flight, whereas Juventus had their 2005 and 2006 titles stripped and were relegated to Serie B with a 30 point deficit.
Yet, looking at the Serie A now, it’s hard to believe that 9 years ago the Bianconeri were preparing for a mass exodus of talent and life in Serie B. It is somewhat remarkable just how much Juventus have achieved, and how their rivals have stagnated.
Even with the scandal hanging over Juventus, a few big name players did decide to stay in Turin and help the club to get promoted. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram departed, but Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved opted to stay. Naturally, Juventus earned promotion back to the Serie A convincingly with 28 wins and 83 goals scored.
The following season Juventus stocked up on players, ready to once again challenge for the Scudetto. Zdenek Grygera and Thiago joined up, and somewhat fortunate injuries allowed Georgio Chiellini and Nicola Legrottaglie to form an effective centre-back partnership, with the club ending the season in third place with the joint-second best defensive record in the league. At this point, things are looking good for Juventus.
However, a disappointing 2009-2010 campaign led to a 7th place finish for Juventus. This would begin a brief period of underachievement and would signify a step back in the club’s ambition to regain what they feel was wrongfully taken away from them; the Scudetto and a chance at domestic and European dominance.
All the while, even with mid-table finishes, the club were still willing to spend, such is the financial power of Juventus. Since promotion from Serie B, the club were willing to spend large amounts for, and this with the benefit of hindsight, distinctly average players. €22m on Amauri here, €27m for Diego there, and all the while the outgoing players seldom left for more than €10m. For all of the financial might that Juventus typically enjoy, they were making losses on players.
Juventus were buying average talent for an average manager, which is not the Juventus that people were used to seeing. But then Antonio Conte was brought in to manage the club in the 2011-2012 season and the impact was immediate.
Antonio Conte is a club legend who instantly had the backing of the Juventus fans, and the club had also moved into the Juventus Stadium which had a positive impact on everyone involved in the club. For years, Juventus were sharing a stadium with their neighbours Torino, whether it was the Stadio delle Alpi or the Stadio Olimpico, and once Juventus moved out of the Stadio Olimpico it took a new identity.
A club hero, famed for both his tenacity and his spectacular goals, was coaching in the brand new club owned stadium. There was a new sense of pride around the club, something that they had not had since before the Calciopoli scandal.
When Conte arrived, a number of underachievers left the club in what was a much needed mini-exodus of dead weight. Alberto Aquilani, Luca Toni, Felipe Melo, Mohammed Sissoko and Amauri were all shown the door and in came Stephen Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo.
Juventus won the league by 4 points and remained unbeaten in the league, only losing to Napoli in the Coppa Italia final. A shot at European glory beckoned for the Bianconeri.
However, scandal once again hit the club. Antonio Conte, Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe were accused in the Calcio Scommesse scandal of 2011-2012. Bonucci and Pepe were acquitted, but Conte was hit with a 10 month touchline ban. He returned to the touchline in the December fixture against Palermo.
The 2012-2013 season would also be the first season that Alessandro Del Piero would not be wearing the famous black and white, but the club managed to sign Paul Pogba on a free transfer from Manchester United. With the benefit of hindsight, this proved to be a passing of the torch. At the time, the signing of Pogba was a risk, given his bitter exit from Manchester United and relatively untapped talent, but one that eventually paid off.
Of course, another Scudetto followed, but Juventus were once again undone in the Champions League quarter finals.
Desperate to amend this, Juventus brought in Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente and Dani Osvaldo to bolster the attacking line read for the 2013-2014 season. In particular, Tevez shone in the league, scoring 19 goals in his debut season, but Juventus did not shine in the Champions League as they were dumped out of the group stage. They had the chance of redemption, to win the Europa League in their own stadium would have papered over the Champions League sized crack in the wall ever so slightly.
They fell at the semi-final stage to Benfica.
Antonio Conte helped to breathe new life into the club, but recognised that he could only take the club so far in Europe. As convincing as Juventus were domestically, one of the big criticisms of them under Conte was that they were simply too passive and toothless in Europe, and Conte tendered his resignation in July last year. Much to the chagrin of Juventus fans, Massimiliano Allegri was brought in to carry on the work of Conte.
More deadwood was trimmed, Mirko Vucinic, Mauricio Isla and Sebastian Giovinco left the club that season, and Alvaro Morata and Patrice Evra were brought in. Massimiliano Allegri was an unpopular appointment, after all, how could the man at the helm of AC Milan’s downfall match the ambition of Juventus? How could he replace the beloved Antonio Conte?
I’d argue that he went one better than Conte.
Domestic glory remained the norm, a league title and a Coppa Italia win helped to ensure that, but European glory is what Juventus crave and Allegri took them further in Europe than Conte ever believed that he could.
Wins over Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco and reigning Champions League holders Real Madrid meant than Juventus would be playing in their first European final for 12 years, and 9 years after they were relegated in a courtroom.
Juventus would go on to lose the final 3-1 to Barcelona, and arguably the best attacking line in world football at the moment. Despite the loss, Juventus proved that once again they are ready to challenge for Europe’s top prize.
Or are they?
Andrea Pirlo has now left the club after what was a terrible performance in the Champions League final, Arturo Vidal is set for a big money move to Bayern Munich and Carlos Tevez has finally returned home to Boca Juniors. Paul Pogba is still linked with a move away and the club have signed Neto, presumably preparing for Gianluigi Buffon’s final season.
This season will be another rebuilding job for Juventus, and next season probably will be too. Domestically, Juventus are in no danger at all. Serie A just isn’t as good as it once was, the league is Juventus and 19 other teams. Roma and Napoli are part-time challengers and the less said about the two Milan clubs the better.
Compared to a lot of other clubs around Europe, Juventus simply cannot compete financially and they are caught in a limbo of being at the top of a dire league but not quite enjoying the reputation of a European giant that they once had.
Once again, the Old Lady of Italy must take a look in the mirror and contemplate where to go now. The footballing farce that was the Calciopoli scandal is now buried, but only according to the Italian court as the statute of limitations has now expired. According to Football-Italia, Luciano Moggi insists that he will continue to fight the ruling, stating:
“They were unable to prove any favours towards Juve, so tried to attack me via personal interests and my rapport with the Gea World agency. I was cleared in that trial.
“The accusation of some vast conspiracy is laughable. Aside from Massimo De Santis, who was punished for a game that didn’t involve Juventus, all the referees were cleared. So who was I fixing the League with, exactly? It’s ridiculous.
Until the Calciopoli scandal is dead and buried once and for all, Juventus and the whole of Serie A will never be able to truly move on. The elephant in the room has now taken a steaming turd in the corner, and you don’t remove a turd by brushing it under the carpet. Italy needs a proper conclusion to Calciopoli, otherwise it will never truly be able to shake the burden of match fixing.
Or a new scandal will probably pop up somewhere…
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