If in my dying moments the events that shaped my life and personality flash before my eyes, I have little doubt that in-between scenes depicting much-loved family and friends, my final spectral vision will be akin to visiting youtube.com and typing in ‘bianconeri’. Okay. That may be an exaggeration, but it leads me nicely onto what I wanted to talk about…
If the whole ‘life-flashing-before-your-eyes’ thing DID happen, and it DID include a Juventus related scene, I know exactly what mine would be. It’s actually very obscure and rather mundane - a tackle from Thuram on the edge of his box. Now before you close your browser vowing never to bother reading my articles ever again, wait, let me explain.
The date was the 22nd April 2003, the venue Camp Nou. It was Champions League quarter-final day and we took a 1-1 aggregate score into the second leg against Barcelona. The Catalans just about edged the first half but shortly after the break Nedved scored. Then the home team started piling on the pressure and within 15 minutes Xavi had levelled the tie. Davids was sent off with 10 minutes of normal time to play and Montero and co, realising they couldn’t out-play an 11 man Barca or even get the ball, reverted to a 9-0-0 formation, erecting a wall around Buffons box for the remainder normal time.
With half an hour of extra time to come it looked inevitable that eventually, we would concede. Apparently though, nobody had given a copy of the script to those in black and white. They all became warriors and nagging thoughts of exhaustion were cast aside. Shot after shot was met by thigh and boot almost as soon as they started their journey goalward. Cross after cross was headed out for a quick 10 second breather before the red and blue sea came to crash down again.
In the end Barca seemed to start running out of ideas and I started to dream of penalties. Then after one of Thuram’s tackles the ball fell to Nedved and a counter broke out. An unopposed run up the wing from Birindelli (I can only assume the Barca players were asking the ref if the rules allowed a Juventus player to have possession), a cross and a shin from Zalayeta and we’d won. It wasn’t so much the goal that won the match but the belief and determination that hadn’t lost it. It would have been easy to fold under the pressure but there was never a lull in effort, never a half-hearted attempt at a block and in the end Thuram’s persistence paid off.
So why am I telling you this? Well, for me, that determination, that grinta, that belief, that thou-shalt-not pass, that lung-bursting run to track back, THAT is Juventus, and THAT is what the Derby d’Italia is about. There is no Scudetto on the line this Sunday and Inter aren’t going to be all over us like that night at the Camp Nou, but there is still a great opportunity to stand up and fire a warning shot across at the Milan teams, a chance to produce a performance that says “we are fighters and we will be fighting tooth and nail next season – watch out”.