The European Cup has had its surprise successes over the years and, as such, Juventus’ progression to the Champions League final at the expense of Real Madrid should not have come as such a major shock.
The Old Lady is no penniless pauper, with her status as Italy’s biggest club being bolstered by yet another Serie A title this season. It was hardly a David vs Goliath story. The trip to Berlin in June will mark their eighth final, not their first.
Yet the ever-widening gap between the richest and the rest in the modern game dictates that any failure for one of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid becomes a huge story. The phenomenal pulling power of the top trio has threatened not just to leave behind the minnows of the game, but also many of the traditional giants from elsewhere across the globe – Juventus included.
Not since 2008 has the Champions League final taken place without one of Barca, Bayern or Madrid, while all three have made the semi-finals in three of the last four campaigns. It is four years since the Germans didn’t make the semis, with Madrid going one better. Barca, meanwhile, have only once failed to make the last four in eight attempts since a last-16 exit to Liverpool in 2007.
There can be no doubting that the financial conditions which have been put in place in recent years have been hugely beneficial to the traditional powerhouses, with the largely unchanged make-up of the Champions League each season speaking volumes about the way the natural order has been strengthened.
*Figuresfrom Deloitte Football Money League
But just as the Premier League’s financial might has not blown away European opposition, the top three have also found plenty of competition in the latter stages of the Champions League from those with far less muscle in the market.
In 2010, Inter upset the odds to win the trophy, while Schalke made the semi-finals 12 months later. Then there was Borussia Dortmund’s run to the 2013 final and Atletico’s similar achievement last year. The bigger the biggest clubs get, the more astonishing such achievements are.
While Juventus versus Real Madrid might have been a fairer fight back in 2003 when the Bianconeri last saw off the Blancos to reach a final, the same cannot be said now. Madrid had twice the income of Juve in 2013-14, and over the last three years alone they have coined in €835 million more than the Turin side in commercial, matchday and broadcasting revenues.
As a result, Real Madrid as a club now has an estimated value of €3.1 billion, four times as large as Juventus’ €774m valuation. The first XI which took to the field at the Santiago Bernabeu cost €425.5m compared to Juve’s €128.8m.
All common reason pointed to a Real Madrid win, but Juventus’ success gives football hope. It shows why the sport still has a future. If the success of the rich was a foregone conclusion, the rest of us would have every reason to just pack up and go home.
But when Massimiliano Allegri and his Bianconeri take their pre-match walk around the field at the Olympiastadion on June 6, they will be playing not just for Juventus fans – not just for Italy – but for the vast majority of European football. They are proving that the game is not always about who has the most money.
Juve, like Atletico, Dortmund and Schalke before them, are keeping the dream alive.