“It’s just like being at home,” said Fabrizio Ravanelli of Juventus after winning his first Azzurri call up in early 1995. The striker had looked around him at Coverciano, noticing many of his club teammates were there. This week at the Italian international training headquarters near Florence it seems nothing much has changed, as another seven Juve players have been called up for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Malta.
It isn’t that Ravanelli’s era or Pirlo’s second stint are anything new, as from Aquilani to Zoff no less than 138 Juve players have won caps since 1920. Indeed out of that total, the Bianconeri have provided 22 World Cup winners in five different tournaments, 24 if you count Frenchmen Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps.
For the record, Gianluigi Buffon has won the most with 143, while he has been called up 175 times. The latest and least amount of call-ups belong to Empoli’s Juve-owned defender Daniele Rugani, who may himself have repeated Ravanelli’s phrase before he was recalled by the Under-21s for their crucial play-off game against Slovakia, due to Alessio Romagnoli’s injury.
When Bianconero numbers are up, the omens are in the Azzurri’s favour when it comes to international tournaments, especially the World Cup. For instance in 1934 under Torino-born super Coach Vittorio Pozzo, there were nine World Cup winners from the club, which is still a record.
Stats show that 1938 was the only time the Azzurri won the tournament with less than five Juventini. However, after the Second World War from 1950 to the shameful exit after defeat by North Korea in 1966, both Juve and Italy failed to really ignite. The Old Lady may have won a handful of titles but she was nowhere near as dominating as in her pre-war days. At this time Inter and Milan were conquering Europe and Serie A.
Things started to change in 1968 when the Azzurri, with Juve stars like striker Pietro Anastasi, defender Sandro Salvadore, Ernesto Castano and Giancarlo Bercellino played a massive part in Italy winning the 1968 European Championship. That year Napoli’s Dino Zoff played in goal and following his move to Juve in 1972 he became the archetypal symbol of the affinity between Juve and the national team.
Soon enough Juve players came back into the Azzurri fold and in the 1970s the national team’s backbone was built from the likes of Zoff, Fabio Capello and Franco Causio. The club were right back on the crest of a wave with Cestmir Vycpalek as Coach they won five titles between 1972 and 1978. And with others like Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cuccureddu, Antonio Cabrini, Francesco Morini, Gaetano Scirea, Giuseppe Furino, Sergio Brio, Roberto Boninsegna and Roberto Bettega walking the duel Juve-Italy path, it was a strong Turin contingent that helped the country come third in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
By 1982 with six Juve players - Zoff, Paolo Rossi, Cabrini, Gentile, Scirea and Marco Tardelli - their inborn swagger helped the Azzurri become World Cup winners in Spain.
Germany 2006 saw Juve provide five players - Fabio Cannavaro, Buffon, Mauro Camoranesi, Alessandro del Piero and Gianluca Zambrotta and in their black, white and blue splendour, the Azzurri stormed through to lift the trophy again.
The tournament that perhaps stands out as bucking the trend is this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Whilst in 2010 the Bianconeri provided six players, it was a struggling club side and a struggling national team. But, four years later under former Juve man Cesare Prandelli, how the Azzurri quite managed to fall to pieces with the nucleus of the three-time Scudetto winners to them remains hard to fathom.
But, with of all men Antonio Conte now in charge and a bright start enjoyed last month, familiarity and faith between Juventus and Italy looks set to flourish once more.