It was a cold Sunday afternoon in Turin, as Juventus visited Torino for the Derby della Mole.
Prior to kick-off, the visiting Bianconeri fans unveiled a huge banner, a figure clad in black and white stripes, tricolore affixed to his chest, and the legend “champions win, losers complain”. Amid the deafening whistles at the Stadio Grande Torino, the Granata fans unveiled their riposte, holding up inflatable models of the Champions League trophy.
“You may win in Italy,” was the message “but you can’t seem to get your hands on this one”. Aside from the ‘Ladri’ slurs and the Calciopoli jokes, it’s the final stick with which opposition fans can beat the Old Lady, whose glorious Italian pedigree has long been unmatched on the continental stage.
Domestically, this is inarguably one of the greatest Juve teams of all time - six consecutive Scudetti and three Coppe Italia on the spin are testament to that. But until they lift the cup with the big ears, there will always - rightly or wrongly - be one big caveat hanging over their achievements, and the fans know it.
It’s strange then, for those same fans to constantly hear Coach Massimiliano Allegri declaring that they cannot expect success in the competition.
“Juve play to win, but they are not the favourites,” the Tuscan said after the draw with Tottenham Hotspur. “You can’t reach the Final every year. The primary objective is the Scudetto: that is nothing to be sniffed at and is not easy. Then we’ll try to go forward in the Champions League.”
On the one hand, of course, the Coach is absolutely right. The Bianconeri may have by far the biggest revenue in Italy, but they’re a long way behind Europe’s other heavyweights. It’s also true that reaching two finals in three years is an extraordinary achievement, and one not easy to replicate.
This is Juventus though, the club where “winning isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters” and in some respects winning the Champions League is the only thing that matters now.
All of this summer’s signings, from Blaise Matuidi to Douglas Costa, made it clear that they had arrived to help the Turin club to lift the Champions League. Gianluigi Buffon has admitted that his career might not have gone on for as long as it has had be not been motivated by the hunt for his white whale, while President Andrea Agnelli’s obsession with that particular trophy is legendary. Allegri’s attempts to play down its importance are understandable, but entirely futile.
This is not to dismiss the Old Lady’s domestic achievements, which will remain in the history books long after the current winning cycle has come to an end. Questions can be asked about the strength of the opposition before this season, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Juve’s dominance has been unprecedented.
Those two Champions League finals, achieved by beating the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona and Real Madrid on the way prove that the Bianconeri aren’t simply flat track bullies either. Make no mistake though, elimination by Tottenham would be seen as a disaster, despite the myriad merits of the English side.
If this Juventus team never wins the Champions League, it won’t mean they’re not a great side, indeed historically so. It won’t make Max Allegri a failure as a Coach, and it won’t diminish Gianluigi Buffon’s achievements. But to suggest the Old Lady shouldn’t expect it, yearn for it, is folly.
Napoli have made it abundantly clear that their focus this season is recapturing the Scudetto they haven’t won since 1990. Juventus would do well to be as honest about their Champions League ambitions.