Here we are. There's one match left in the European club season, and Juventus are in it. Months and years of hard work, discipline, and inspiration have been required to bring this mighty club back to the brink of a perfect sweep of honors, an ultimate victory that would be the shine on the cherry on the icing of the cake.
It has already been a season for the record books, with Juventus stitching on the Coppa Italia and renewing her lease on the Scudetto; marking only the third double in Juventus' history (and the eighth in Italian history). Only Inter, behind José Mourinho and Diego Milito, and with an assist from an Icelandic volcano (not to mention Calciopoli) were able to go one better and lift the big-eared cup as well. This last step is always the hardest, but with a united team, a strong coach, and a winning mentality it is far from impossible.
Even now, on the verge of the perfect season, memories of the hard times remain. Men are still there that played in Rimini and Frosinone, men like Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini who stumbled to consecutive seventh-place finishes and went through coaches like packets of cigarettes. The directors, Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici, who were told to go back to Sampdoria after Gigi Delneri was extinguished and tossed aside, but the same two men have now built the best team in Italy, a side that beat Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals.
A team built with opportunistic transfers and a keen eye for young talent, with one after another signed on co-ownership (before the rule change) or brought in on loan with an option to buy. Discoveries like Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro stepping into the first team in some of the most demanding matches of the season, and imposing themselves on the game, shows that the team is rejuvenating while we watch. Whatever happens over the summer, with talents like Pablo Dybala, Domenico Berardi, Sami Khedira seemingly set to join, the steady accumulation of talent shows no signs of slowing down.
In some ways then this, having Juventus on the verge of being crowned Champions of Europe, came both ahead of and behind schedule. Ahead of schedule because of the rejuvenation that the team is currently undergoing, with those who stayed in Serie B now into their golden years (Claudio Marchisio excepted, he was still a kid, after all) while the new additions still have growing to do. Behind schedule because, quite simply, this is Juventus- — and anything less than a Scudetto with a decent European run is something of a disappointment. Perhaps more than anything it highlights the narrow margins at this level of the game — remembering the come-from-behind against Olympiakos and the tense 0-0 with Atleti just to advance from the group stage.
At the beginning of the season, Juventus sat at 28-to-1 to win the Champions League, odds far behind the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona. It was a squad in transition, playing a four-man defense after years of a 3-5-2 formation. A squad that could dominate in Italy, but that had been exposed, often by inferior teams, on the European stage.
Yet here we are. The squad leans hard on its veterans and youngsters, but they seem to feed off one another and their coach. This Juve is a united team, so rare in the modern age of Bosman transfers and nonstop transfer rumors. A squad, man for man, with the burning desire to prove itself at the highest level. Veterans providing experience, technique, and a winning mentality, alloyed with the energy and daring of kids who don't know any better. And all with one singular focus: June 6, Olympiatadion, Berlin.
For the millions and millions of Juventus supporters around the world, this is a moment that will live long in memory. After 12 long years, The Old Lady is back in the showcase. And, in the words of Alfredo Di Stefano, repeated possibly more frequently in Italian than even the great Argentine's native tongue, "Le finali non si giocano, si vincono." Final's aren't there to be played, they're there to be won.
And having seen her rivals lift the trophy on five of seven previous appearances in the final, if anyone deserves a bit of luck in the big one, surely it's the Old Lady from Turin.