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Udinese v. Juventus: Battle For Middle-Earth

For Fabio

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” – Thomas Payne - The Crisis

Often the most difficult of times act as a springboard to greatness. Juventus in 2011 cuts a forlorn figure – scorned by rivals, mocked by the press, disrespected by the referees.... and most importantly, doubted by fans. The same fans that stood behind the club during the dark days of 2006 are now starting to lose patience in what is going to be our fifth consecutive trophyless year.  A psychological analysis will show that this reaction was inevitable.

Right after 2006, the Juventus squad still had a few loyal Moggi era champions in the team, who still had a couple of years of good football left in them. Thus, contrary to all expectations, when the team returned to serie A, we actually started competing at the top end of the table straight away on the wings of the “old guard.” However, the downfall of Juventus, as always, was not on the pitch. Behind the scenes, two non-football men (Cobboli-Gigli and Blanc) along with the worst Juventus DS of all time, a certain Secco, was working furiously to destroy the very foundations of the team.  Out went the loyal Deschamps who guided us out of Hades, in came Ranieri whose mentality was the very antithesis of Juve. Simultaneously, we started getting some utterly mediocre players for ultra inflated prices, and then offered them long contracts with ridiculous wages. The inevitable thus happened – the old guard got old, and we were left with a nonsense squad largely full of bidoni. Result – 7th place in serie A.

And then the Agnelli era began, again.

The fans found belief that the halcyon days of old will return; that once managed by competent people like Marotta, Gigi DelNeri and Paratici, Juventus shall soon regain her accustomed place in calico. The mercato in the summer fiercely divided opinions, but results over the first half of the season started giving the fans hope that with some smart moves in the winter, something beautiful can be achieved in the second half of the season. Juve seemed to have re-discovered her spirit and grinta, the team was settling down to a good tactical rhythm, and the league was so balanced that anything was possible.

As we can expect by now, just when the tide seemed to be turning, disaster struck again – our top scorer got injured, our best DM got banned for three games, and the team (with half the squad in hospital) got walloped in consecutive games by Parma and Napoli and got thrown out of the Coppa Italia. More frighteningly, the true extent of Juve’s financial difficulties was revealed. Indeed, it is now a very unhealthy situation, with ready scapegoats and fingerpointing – a tangle of unfortunate circumstances that casts a pall of gloom over the tifosi. The president says there is no money due to errors of previous management, the DS says there are strict financial guidelines, and the coach says he “doesn’t have a certain type of attacker.”

The one reason why football is the greatest sport in the world is because of the kind of emotions it inspires. In these times of turmoil, emotions take over, and rightly so. Fans are fans because they are emotional, and thus different from supercilious armchair critics whose flawed football analysis is bettered only by their contempt for the average fan. Yes – fans are now emotional because they dared to dream, and now it is turning into an oh so familiar nightmare yet again.

However, as fans the only thing we can do is wait patiently. We can argue amongst ourselves, we can come up with statistics and blast those in charge, and we can show our support to the management, and it will not change a single thing. The only thing that matters in football is winning, and it is up to the players wearing those black and white strips to drag the club out of trouble. So what if today’s opponents are the most inform team in serie A, so what if our squad is obliterated by injuries? Today’s game is much more than Juventus vs Udinese, 3 points, standings... everything. All talk of crisis, mismanagement, mercato, money takes the back seat because in football, life changes in 90 minutes. We, as fans, need to support the boys on the pitch, regardless of the names on their back, because of one and only one reason – they play for this club in Turin who wear the bianconeri.

Forza Juve till I die.

Artwork by and article by Papai.