Club Features, Features

Juventus: The Next Frontier

September 5, 2017 - 7:48 pm

As the half-time whistle blew at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on June 3, 2017, I was still reliving the image of Mario Mandzukic producing the UEFA Champions League Goal of the Season, and one that is now in the annals of UCL History as one of the finest ever scored.  You can then forgive me for going into half-time thinking – as I had so often during the 2016/17 season – “this is our year.”

Alas, it was not to be.

And now, what?  The current state of affairs at The Old Lady calls for things that are short in supply for Juventini these days: perspective and patience.

Think about these numbers: 45, 32, 31 and 25.

  • 45: Inter were European Champions in 1964 and 1965. After that, they had to wait a whopping 45 years before once again tasting UCL success in 2010.
  • 32: The reigning Champions, Real Madrid, despite being the all-time record holders with 12 titles won, had to wait 32 years between their 6th cup (1966) and their 7th (1998).
  • 31: The current richest club in the world, Manchester United, had a 31-year long UCL title drought before Alex Ferguson’s first winning European season in 1999.
  • 25: Bayern Munich had to wait 25 years between titles numbers 3 and 4.

The end of the current season will see the 22nd Anniversary of Juventus’ last UCL triumph.  As you saw above, we could do a lot worse than waiting 22 years.  Why does 22 years feel like such a long time, though? Well, since only two clubs have won six of the last ten UCL campaigns, it seems that the norm is for them to wait no more than 2-3 seasons between titles.

That, however, is an anomaly.

The last time in which two teams dominated the competition in a manner comparable to the recent era of Barcelona/Real Madrid was way back in the 1970’s: from 1971-1976, first Ajax, then Bayern, each achieved a threepeat.  It’s very rare for UCL titles to be concentrated within such few teams over such a short period, though.  The recent trend, atypical as it is, is due to the rise of what I call the “Club of Superclubs” (I know, highly unimaginative, but function over form, right?).

Since 2010, membership in the “Club of Superclubs” has been limited to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.  Between 2010 and 2016, every Champions League Semifinal featured at least two of those clubs and, on three occasions (2012, 2013 and 2015), all three reached the semis.  Any knowledgeable journalist worth her/his salt today would instantly name all three as the elite clubs in Europe and, therefore, the world.

Yet by the end of last season, something had changed.  For the first time since 2009, only one of those clubs reached the UCL Semifinals.  Granted, it was the eventual winner and part of it was due to chance, since it was drawn against one of the other two (Bayern Munich) in the quarterfinals.  But, I would argue, there was a more long-term factor at play as well: an ongoing power shift within the “Club of Superclubs.”

Two teams had the most UCL Semifinal appearances between 1999/2000 and 2008/2009, with five apiece.  One, predictably enough, was Barcelona. But do you know what was the other? Chelsea, a team that only made it past the Quarterfinals once since winning it all in 2012.

Also, do you know which three teams came in second, with 4 appearances each? Again, predictably enough, one was Real Madrid.  But the other two? Milan and Manchester United, two teams that, since 2014, have a combined total of one season in Europe’s elite competition (2015/2016, when United failed to qualify from the Group Stage).

And Bayern?  Only two Semifinals in that period.

The point is, things change, and footballing elites are no different.  Just as the 2000-2009 elite changed, the current elite is likewise changing.

Mind you, statistics and predictions rarely bear this out in real time.  For instance, now that Juventus and Barcelona have been drawn together in the group stage for the 2017/2018 UCL, fivethirtyeight.com’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) gives Barcelona a 68% chance of winning the group.  This despite the fact that a) they lost Neymar, b) Juventus decisively beat them last season, even with Neymar on the pitch, and c) to any outsider, Barça seems to be in evident administrative disarray.

The SPI prediction should not be all that surprising.  For the better part of a decade, Barcelona looked (and usually were) practically unbeatable.  However, the 3-0 drubbing that Juventus gave them on aggregate (not to mention in the first leg in Turin) was a definitive signal of a European power shift.

Now, I am by no means suggesting Barcelona are finished as a European powerhouse, nor do I believe that Juventus will walk all over them. But I do believe that Juventus should be perceived as the stronger side and favored to win the group, and it is to this point that all juventini should pay attention.  We will soon be joining the “Club of Superclubs.”  The only reason why it has taken us this long lies in our not-too-distant past.

The Old Lady’s return to form as a European powerhouse must be assessed in light of its forced stint in Serie B, with all the consequences it generated (starting with, It was a season in Serie B!).  By almost any metric one can apply, Calciopoli destroyed Juventus: it generated a predominantly negative connotation for the club’s brand, denied them Champions League revenue for the 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 seasons – harming its UEFA Club Coefficient in the process – and caused many of its top talents to flee the club for greener pastures, only to be replaced by mostly forgettable additions, all of which led to two seasons of mid-table mediocrity prior to the 2011/2012 renaissance.

Given all of the above, the fact that we have reached two UCL Finals when a mere 10 years ago we were only re-joining Serie A, should be taken for the amazing achievement it is.  Yes, I am fully aware that at Juventus, winning is the only thing that counts, so far be it from me to conform with UCL runners-up medals.  The point, however, is that reaching two UCL Finals within the 10 years following our return to Serie A, is an achievement of considerable merit, and a clear sign that, sooner rather than later, we will join the “Club of Superclubs.”

Therefore, juventini, do not despair.  We would all love to see our beloved Capitano raise the trophy with the Big Ears.  But even if that does not come to pass, it will not be much longer until our beloved Lady is fully entrenched among the top three clubs in the world and, soon thereafter, finally reaches European glory once again.

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  • Avatar
    Dave Long September 5, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    A good perspective piece, cheers. The CL is certainly a difficult competition to win, not being one of the ‘elite’ and making two finals is certainly an achievement. As i mentioned in my CL draw review we definitely have a huge chance to join that merry band by winning the group. However I think we’ll only be considered a part of the elite if we actually win it. That’s how far ahead the others are. That and Serie A needs to be more competitive, looking at the strength of La Liga and the Bundesliga one would not only include CL success to be part of the top table but the competitiveness of their league too.

  • thegutterpoet
    thegutterpoet September 6, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I do not believe we are on a path towards becoming en par with Munich and real Madrid. I would expect United to potentially get there first, with our level remaining comparable to atletico Madrid and watching over our shoulders as Chelsea, psg, man city all make inroads towards regular success at the top level.

    We simply do not have the resources or club ethos of spending as much as real and United especially when it comes to chasing the ultimate prize, nor of the new filthy money teams like psg and man city…however, it must be accepted that whilst our achievement in returning to the top from our calciopoli debacle (which did not destroy us! Mangled and maimed yes but we kept our heart beating) is praiseworthy, our investments once back in serie a dwarved our domestic foes and others in Europe. We wasted huge amounts of money under secco…

    It was the agnelli- marrotta- paratici connexion which began to change matters for the better, with conte the catalyst.

    The business model from 2011 onwards and those chosen to deliver is outstanding. What came before was profligate mismanagement of our resources as we tried to buy our way back to domestic dominance.

    No idea on Barcelona although I would not in any way put us above them. They were ailing last year and lost neymar. we have lost our strongest cb, the fulcrum of the side and have much change afoot in the ranks.

    I’m happy to be comparable to atletico on the European front. We both lack the spending and resources of a fair few clubs, yet can hopefully cling into the top table and do more than Chase crumbs, achieve a few more semis and finals in the near future. Yet make no mistake, there are hungry, stronger squads with decent management hot on the trail.

    So, my own view is that we will continue to consolidate. Not become a regular member of a very small handful of the elite. Football is different in the modern era. The money is insane and as often as it doesn’t lead to glory, it does…

    Real Madrid and Munich to probably continue to find more success than others, with juve, a Madrid, barca, United and then Chelsea, psg, man city in the next tier…

  • Avatar
    BelgianJuventino September 6, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Juventus as a club is definitely on the rise, I think a top 5 is more than justified. RM and Bayern are the two top tier teams for me (and most people I assume)

    However, as a brand Juve lags behind. Massively. Which affects merchandise income, attractiveness to top players, the amount sponsors are willing to offer and so on. Teams like Swansea and West Ham can pay the same transfers/wages as Juve, which is rather sad, but it is what it is. (don’t pin me down on those specific teams, just picked two that popped up in my head)

    I do agree with what tgp said earlier, I don’t think Juve is becoming an elite like Bayern or Real. Juve is something just behind that and digging in to remain there. Absolutely a CL contender, but not a favorite.

  • Avatar
    Moderator September 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Fantastic read Ramon ! Really needed a little perspective at a time like this when everyone is clamoring for superstars and criticisizing the club – We’re making slow and steady progress, we’re improving, learning from mistakes, but always moving forward

  • Avatar
    Christian Trenkle September 6, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Fantastic article! I believe we are already one of the Super-Clubs. Why? Wenn were until the last 40min the best and Most constant team in the CL. We were the bester team in the first 45 min of the final. Wenn only Lost our confidence and the Real goals were also auch bit lucky. In addition werden dominated Barca and didn’t conced over two games against MSN. Last year we dominated Bayern in Munich and pressed them like hell in the First 60 min. We also attractive for bis players like Higuain and finally we keep our big players like Dybala and Sandro. Only Marotta must change his policy with players who “want” to leave. He should act like Rummingge ( as much don’t like Bayern, they are clear about not selling star players). The next years we are one of the favorites for CL Glory. Look also at Barca and Bayern. There Star-Players are ageing (Robben, Ribery, Messi, Iniesta)