It was meant to be the time for Juventus to hand Italy its first Champions League trophy since 2010, when Inter hoisted the trophy with the big ears. The Old Lady were even in for an historic Treble, having already secured the Serie A title and Coppa Italia, their third consecutive domestic Double.
The Bianconeri had lost the 2015 Champions League Final to a superior Barcelona team. However, this time no side had been more impressive than Juve. Just ask Lionel Messi and his Blaugrana. Still, a poor second half and a deflected Casemiro shot meant Los Blancos took home their third trophy in the last four seasons with a 4-1 win, their 12th overall. Historic.
Some might say Juventus bottled the Final. Some might say it was proof Italian football is still far behind Spain. In reality, however, the Bianconeri showed the world that Italian football can be exciting, fun to watch, and, above all, successful on the biggest stage.
Despite the loss, Juventus were 30 minutes away from doing the unthinkable. It took a deflected shot for Real to make the difference. The fact that they eventually scored four goals means nothing in terms of difference in quality and power between the Spanish and Italian champions.
Spanish football has dominated the European level during the past decade, winning numerous Champions League and Europa League titles, next to winning two European Championships and one World Cup. That means when it comes to trophies, there’s a lot of work to do for Italian clubs and the Azzurri.
However, with Juventus reaching two Champions League Finals in the last three years and the Azzurri’s new generation ready to get going, Italian football has shown the world that it’s very much alive and kicking. Napoli are proven to be a team to be reckoned with, while Roma are moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, there’s hope for the Milanese clubs with their Chinese takeovers.
Juventus have laid down the foundations for them and other Italian clubs to get better. In past years, not one star player considered a move to Serie A. This summer, numerous big names have been rumoured to be considering an Italian job. That change of mind might be the most important consequence of Juventus’ European success. Even in my Belgium, the journalists and analysts admitted they liked the Old Lady’s evolution.
Calcio once ruled the world. In today’s football, it will be hard to get back to that number one spot for Italian clubs. There’s just too much money involved in other countries. But there’s always the path of smart management, the path of Juventus. Many won’t like to follow the Old Lady’s example, but it is the only way.
On paper, Real Madrid might have won the Champions League Final, but in the end Juventus and Italian football might just be the winners in everyone’s mind. Players are once again looking to Italy as an option and football fans are excited about Italian players and clubs. There’s sunshine in the rain, folks. And the sun is shining for Italian football.