For Juventus and Max Allegri, the expectation has never been higher. The belief surrounding The Old Lady is that they are now capable of achieving something extraordinary, the strategic planning of the club has seen Juve climb towards the summit of European football with last summer’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo envisaged as being the additional boost needed to reach the top. Completing a move for the game’s biggest star has brought unprecedented attention off the pitch and increased pressure to perform on it.
The narrative for Juve has swung from being a club that harbours ambition to win the Champions League to a side that is now expected to become champions of Europe and inevitably, it is Allegri that carries the burden of responsibility.
The assumption was that we would eventually see a confident, dominant, fluid Juventus capable of sweeping away all before them on their road to glory. However, the current reality paints a different picture.
The excitement felt in pre-season has slowly turned to one of discontent, with many supporters pointing the finger at the man in charge. As with the majority of fanbases that have been spoiled by success, few are able to look at the situation objectively, with those that either blindly back their team or the others that seek to find the negative in any given situation.
So which side is right? The truth is somewhere in between. There are undeniable flaws but it’s also not Armageddon for the Bianconeri.
There are a number of factors in play here that started well before the current campaign kicked off. Despite performing excellently on the transfer market in recent years, the starting XI remains unbalanced, specifically in midfield, but there is enough quality in the squad to make up for those shortcomings. Defensive instability and below par individual performances are compounded by a team that has become increasingly unattractive to watch.
They are led by a Coach that no longer acts or thinks pro-actively, but one that chooses to adopt an unassertive, timid approach seen on a number of occasions this season and highlighted recently by their show in Spain.
The opening rounds of the Champions’ League group stage offered a glimpse into what this Juventus are capable of. Commanding displays at the Mestalla and then Old Trafford were supposed to be tastes of what was to come, but that never materialised, with things arguably regressing since.
It has to be kept in mind that this remains a side who are undefeated in Serie A and one that is on course for a historic, record-breaking eighth consecutive Scudetto.
To win continually in this manner should never be dismissed or treated as ‘normal’. Simply put, it isn’t. Maintaining the motivation and desire to succeed on this scale requires a special group, it is testament to the mentality that exists within the Turin based club. Italy’s top flight is a grinding experience, it is never easy, despite what those that don’t follow the league like to declare. So for this reason, “only” clinching the Serie A trophy should never be deemed a failure, but the very minimum required in the current climate.
The main source of the fans’ frustration is without doubt Juve’s Tuscan Tactician. The constant slandering of a Coach that has overseen four consecutive domestic doubles and engineered La Vecchia Signora’s revival as a force in European football is certainly unwarranted. With that being said, logical and impersonal criticism is fair, given how the season is unfolding. Desperately disappointing defeats in the Coppa Italia quarter-final against Atalanta and last week’s surrender in Madrid to Diego Simeone’s Atletico were the final straw for many Juventini, who are now demanding a change on the bench.
In a season that promised so much, the Juventus environment has been served a reality check. Perhaps it provides all that are connected with the club an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the difficulty of their latest challenge, with a newfound respect for what the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid have achieved in years gone by.
It takes more than the phenomenal Ronaldo. The Portuguese hitman was an additional piece of a complicated puzzle and not the part required to complete it.
We are all aware of footballs ruthless nature and ultimately there can be no alibis or hiding place for Andrea Agnelli and co. Questions are being asked, disapproval and slurs are guaranteed to follow if the presumed early exit from the Champions League occurs on March 12th. However, even if this is eventually deemed as somewhat of a low point in this period of success for Juve, one thing is guaranteed. This is not a club that is prepared to feel sorry for itself and self-destruct, the laser-like focus of the Juventus management on becoming the best means they will not stop until they reach their ultimate goal.