Anyone fancy some humble pie? There is plenty to go around after Juventus sensationally booked their place in the Champions League final on Wednesday by eliminating holders Real Madrid.
No one in their wildest fantasies could have predicted such an outcome last summer when the Bianconeri were left in disarray after coach Antonio Conte suddenly resigned in the middle of July due to a disagreement over transfer policy.
In a shock move, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and CEO Giuseppe Marotta hurriedly named Massimiliano Allegri as Conte’s successor. Only six months earlier, Allegri had been sacked as coach of AC Milan and needless to say the appointment did not go down well with fans.
Hundreds of Juventus supporters immediately staged a protest outside the club’s Vinovo training base, while Ultras demanded a meeting with Marotta as part of a campaign to overturn the decision.
“The first day with Allegri and the president in the car, we were greeted at the training ground by spitting, eggs and kicks,” Marotta revealed earlier this month.
Most Italian journalists predicted that Allegri’s arrival would signal the downfall of Juventus – that Paul Pogba and Manchester United-target Arturo Vidal were certain to leave the club and the rapidly rising Roma would overtake the Bianconeri domestically.
Some 10 months down the line, the experts and fans could not have been more wrong. Vidal and Pogba are still at the club and Juve are on course to win a historic treble. A fourth straight Scudetto was clinched with four rounds to spare – with the Old Lady a whopping 16 points clear of crisis-hit Roma. Next week, Juventus have the chance to win their first Coppa Italia since 1995 as they take on Lazio in the final, while against all odds the Bianconeri are in the Champions League final.
The work done by Allegri, Marotta and Agnelli has been remarkable. The coach has proven that the problems he encountered at Milan were largely down to an inadequate playing staff and an owner who should have sold the club years ago.
At Juventus, he has shown himself to be intelligent, tactically astute and superior to Conte. While his predecessor performed miracles in rebuilding the club and dominating Serie A, he consistently fell short on the continent. His side always played the same way with the same 3-5-2 formation – making them very predictable when faced by Europe’s elite.
He also rotated poorly – regularly fielding his full-strength side against weak Serie A opponents days before a Champions League clash – and never believed his team could challenge superpowers like Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “You cannot go to eat at a €100 restaurant with just €10 in your pocket,” he famously said, while he also sniped in 2013 that “an Italian team won’t win the Champions League for years.”
Allegri has learned from all of Conte’s mistakes. He has made Juventus unpredictable by using a number of different formations – his favoured 4-3-1-2, the 3-5-2, 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 – often “changing the menu” during games as Patrice Evra put it. He has also offered more freedom to key players, particularly Carlos Tevez who was sometimes restricted by Conte’s rigid system.
The coach has rested first teamers before big European matches – nine sat out Juve’s Serie A match with Cagliari last Saturday – while most importantly of all he has given Juventus belief that they can compete against anyone. Conte’s defeatist attitude is gone – Allegri has behaved like the coach of one of the world’s biggest clubs. “We go to Berlin convinced we can bring home the trophy,” he remarked on Wednesday night.
Allegri also added that Juventus’ win over Madrid was a “big night for Italian football” and there is no doubt that the success will serve as a big inspiration for the rest of the peninsula.
It has become a pastime for many fans and members of the football community to kick Serie A when it was down on its knees. But the league has shown this season that, despite its obvious problems with stadiums, Ultras and finance (Madrid’s revenue from 2013-14 was €270m more than Juventus’, according to Deloitte), from a footballing sense it is far from dead.
Juventus are in the Champions League final, while both Napoli and Fiorentina are in the Europa League semis. After Thursday’s matches, Serie A could overtake La Liga as the best performing championship in Europe this season. Italy has earned 19 coefficient points for the Uefa Ranking this term to Spain’s 19.2. The German Bundesliga and English Premier League are way back with 15.8 and 13.5 points, respectively.
After next season, it is very possible that Italy will regain four places in the Champions League at the expense of England. That is a damning indictment on the Premier League considering the astronomical wealth gap between the EPL and Serie A.
The quality of the Italian championship is regularly ridiculed, particularly in the British media, but it is now time for a reality check. The EPL had no teams progress past the last 16 in Europe, Ligue 1 only had two and the Bundesliga just two also – with Germany’s second best team Wolfsburg humiliated by a struggling Napoli outfit.
Juventus and Serie A have restored Italian pride and silenced so many critics in the process