Juventus: From Serie B to another Champions League final – the Old Lady’s rise

  • Juve

Juventus: From Serie B to another Champions League final – the Old Lady’s rise

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so the saying goes, and it certainly appears to be the case with Juventus.

Ten years ago, Juve were dragging themselves out of the second tier of Italian football following a tumultuous sequence of events that saw them demoted from Serie A.

Now, after beating Monaco 4-1 on aggregate, the Old Lady will face either Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Cardiff on 3 June.

“Magic Dani Alves, fantastic Juventus,” read the headline on Italian newspaper Tuttosport. Gazzetta dello Sport, meanwhile, went with: “Great Juve!”

The media are gushing, and who can blame them?

Two Champions League finals in three years, on the cusp of winning a sixth successive Serie A title and 23 games unbeaten in Europe.

Former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov, speaking on BT Sport, described Juve’s performance on Tuesday as a “masterclass”.

“Attack and defence everywhere,” he said.

After a rollercoaster decade, Juve may have put together the perfectly balanced side.

The rise from the ashes

Just five days after lifting the World Cup trophy in 2006, Juve team-mates Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro del Piero and Mauro Camoranesi were faced with the prospect of preparing for life in the second tier of Italian football.

Juve, along with Lazio and Fiorentina, were implicated in a match-fixing scandal that resulted in the three teams being demoted to Serie B for 2006-07, though the latter two had their sentences reduced to points deductions on appeal.

Juve were also given a 30-point deduction, later reduced to nine, and their hopes of an immediate return to the top flight were further hampered by the departures of several key players, including Patrick Vieira, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabio Cannavaro.

The club’s trio of World Cup winners stayed, though, and were instrumental as Juve bounced back at the first attempt – winning Serie B by six points, losing just four of their 42 league games.

Didier Deschamps, a Champions League winner with Juventus in 1996, returned to coach his former club following their demotion but left two games before the end of their title-winning season after a disagreement with the club’s hierarchy.

Ranieri leads European return; Conte continuity

Claudio Ranieri was the man brought in to lead Juve in their first season back in Serie A, and he led them into the Champions League with a third-place finish.

But the Italian was unable to build on that, with Juve knocked out of Europe by Chelsea and finishing 10 points adrift of Inter Milan in the league.

Ranieri was sacked, but the next three managers – Ciro Ferrara, Alberto Zaccheroni and Luigi Delneri – made little impact in short spells in charge.

Though the team appeared to be regressing, a significant appointment had been made by club owner Andrea Agnelli.

He made former Sampdoria chief executive Giuseppe Marotta Juve’s sporting director, and he brought about significant changes in the playing and coaching staff.

Marotta oversaw the arrivals of Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli – two players who would become key parts of Juve’s near-impenetrable defence – before appointing Antonio Conte as coach in the summer of 2011.

Just as he has at Chelsea, Conte implemented a gameplan founded on a three-man defence, turning Juve into a side that dominated possession and was tough to break down.

The results were immediate – the club’s first Scudetto in nine years in his first season followed by another two just for good measure.

New home, new Juve

Also significant in Juve’s revival was their move to the Juventus Stadium – built on the site of their former home the Stadio delle Alpi – during Conte’s first season.

Though capacity is significantly reduced – from 69,000 to 41,254 – the atmosphere in the arena has improved dramatically.

“The Delle Alpi was hugely unpopular with fans, who were stationed far away from the pitch because of a running track, and sightlines were almost universally poor,” says European football expert Andy Brassell.

“It was rarely filled. In their last Champions League campaign at the old stadium, the Delle Alpi had an average attendance of just 12,285 in the group stage. Even the visit of Bayern Munich attracted only 16,076. The only way was to rip it up and start again.”

In the six seasons since opening their new home, Juve have lost just three Serie A games there.

Underrated Allegri?

While Conte brought back domestic glory, European success continued to elude Juve. They were beaten by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the 2012-13 Champions League and failed to even get out of their group the following season.

When Conte left in July 2014 to become Italy boss, he suggested he had not had the financial clout to compete with Europe’s top clubs, saying: “When you sit in a restaurant where a meal costs 100 euros, you can’t think about eating with just 10 euros.”

That was, perhaps, a final gift from Conte.

With Juve’s players determined to prove themselves to new boss Massimiliano Allegri – and perhaps show Conte was wrong – they reached the Champions League final in 2015, losing 3-1 to Barcelona.

“The change of coach gave Juventus something more, because in the first two months of the season we wanted to prove that we were still the best,” defender Giorgio Chiellini said in March 2015.

“We want to prove to everyone and, above all, to ourselves that we are a great team.”

Defeat by Barcelona prompted wholesale changes to the playing squad as Allegri looked to move them to the next level.

Juve’s formidable defence was largely unaltered, but more flair and bite has been added in attack.

Former Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic, for example, has proven a more-than-able replacement for Paul Pogba, who made a world-record £89m move to Manchester United last summer.

Up front, the exciting Paulo Dybala, signed from Palermo in 2015, has drawn comparisons to Lionel Messi while ex-Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain has scored 32 goals in 49 appearances this season.

As Conte said, eating a 10 euro meal at a 100 euro restaurant is not really the done thing – and Juve paid Napoli £75.3m to sign Higuain last summer.

But the manner of their victories over Barcelona and Monaco suggests they are now dining at the top table alongside Europe’s elite.