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Landmarks of Turin Awards: Juventus vs. Barcelona Edition

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Juventus v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

I’m not sure I was a Juventus fan before yesterday.

Before yesterday, the following two things were true that, ostensibly, made me a Juventus fan: I had studied in Turin several years back, and in the last 12 months I felt soccer calling and calling and calling. Greater access to Italian (and German, and Spanish) soccer meant I didn’t have to cheer one of the English sides. It made sense to cheer for Juventus.

So I followed from afar.

In January, when I convinced by using secret potions given to me by Professor Slughorn Danny to let me write here, I started watching every Juventus game. The silly games against the bottom-feeders of Serie A, and the Porto legs, the Coppa whirls with our pals down in Naples (“pal” is the right term, I’m sure they would agree…). I remember being amped for the Inter game in which Juan Cuadrado really dialed up something special, and the Coppa fixture against Napoli was intense, but there hadn’t been a single game for which I woke up that morning with my heart beating a million beats per minute, the way I felt at my school’s football games in college when I’d wake early and make coffee and get to the stadium as the gates were unlocked — the anticipation, the build, the stakes.

Yesterday, that changed.

When the seagulls cried — my wife and I have one of those sunrise alarm clocks and these damn seagulls wake us up every morning — I had Juve on my mind. From the very start. I had taken the afternoon off to watch the game live at a bar in downtown Austin, and all morning at work all I could think about was all Juventus. One of my students talks incessantly about Luis Suarez — his dad is from Uruguay, so I guess he gets a pass; i.e. at least it’s not a totally contrived adoration — and he had some words for me in the morning. I wasn’t feeling very confident, but assured him Juventus would thrash Barcelona. (Thanks for backing me up, guys.)

I felt all the feelings one feels before something happens about which one cares greatly.

Then, the bar: I arrive about 45 minutes before kickoff and order a Bell’s Amber. Bell’s is a brewery from Michigan and makes damn fine beer. The bar is called Fado, it’s the soccer bar in Austin, and it’s so completely Irish kitsch it’s beautiful. With that one weird Gaelic font, and garish woodcarvings and the Irish flag in random places. It’s awesome. It smells like a bar: the smell of stale beer just below the prominence of a general disinfectant. The bar is ready for more beer. I’m waiting on my brother, who’s not much of a soccer fan but whom I roped into this, and as I wait the waitress and I chat about our dislike of Barcelona — and Barcelona fans.

And, of course, because this is the way the universe works, not two minutes after discussing our dislike of Barcelona fans, some Barcelona fans walk in the room. He sits with one empty spot between us. He’s from Wisconsin. Suffice it to say, he’s annoying. (I chronicle our most epic exchange below.) He’s wearing a kit, and he clearly knows very little about soccer:

*Image of Gonzalo Higuain warming up on the TV*

Barcelona dude: That guy looks old!

Me: *That guy?*

Not to be outdone, another guy occupies the spot between us at the start of the game, eyes my Giorgio Chiellini jersey — what a kit to have worn yesterday! — and clearly despises me. After about 15 minutes, though, because of the Barcelona fans to his right, he and I kind of become buddies, because he knows his stuff and, if nothing else, we’re able to discuss tactics. Later I’ll learn that he’s an Inter fan, and only there to root against Juventus.

(Side note: I do not understand rooting for teams in your league. I just don’t. With college football, I don’t understand conference pride. I root against every time in my school’s conference except for my school. So, I guess I kind of approved of this dude’s perspective.)

The bar fills and fills: overwhelmingly in support of Barcelona. There are some neutrals who, I think, are supporting Juventus tepidly, but also who want Lionel Messi to score, but I am the lone Juventus kit. The lone Juventus fan. Each Juventus goal, the bartender and I high-five. When Chiellini scores, I stand on my stool, hands lifting the corners of my kit. I get daggers from the Barca supporters, and I don’t care.

Yesterday, I was born into black and white.

I was baptized Bianconero.

Aperitivi

A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.

  • More like Outiesta, am I right?
  • I will be honest: I like Messi. I also do not like Suarez and Neymar. But Messi actually doesn’t seem to behave too much like a diva, at least compared to Neymar. Suarez, as we all know, is simply crazy. But antics and entitlement aside, Messi is still — still! — their best player, and he showed it again yesterday. The dude is lit like a lightbulb, wetter than the Amazon. Every time he touched the ball he drew two, three, four defenders. In one unfortunate exchange, when La Joya had tracked back to defend and found himself face to face with his compatriot, poor Paulo Dybala was made to look quite silly.
  • J-Stadium seemed to be rocking. Let’s hope a gaggle of black and white can make it to Barcelona next week.
  • Barcelona sucks and I hate them, but I must say that Luis Enrique, although tactically lacking, was absolutely on top of his cardigan and show games last night. For that, I commend him.
  • On a serious note: Absolutely insane, stunning, and tragic what happened to Dortmund. I have all the curse words for people who hurt other people, who think that’s the way to do things. And I have all the warm feelings for the Dortmund fans who opened their homes up to Monaco fans when the match was delayed. That’s humanity: In the span of 24 hours people are blowing shit up and then inviting them into their homes. I always think of this one passage from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, where one of the brothers Dimitri (who’s a little bit of a loose cannon) is talking about human beings, and remarks that they’re equally capable of wondrous and terrible things. He says that man’s nature is in a sense “too wide,” that it’s overwhelming in that way. Difficult to conceive. Yesterday reminded me once again of that.

Onto the awards:

Sidewalk of Turin Award

For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.

Juventus just beat Barcelona 3-0. I’m not sure we need to shame someone with the Sidewalk Award, do we?

Piazza San Carlo Award

For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.

The first thing that comes to mind is that, for us, I don’t think any of the performances on the pitch yesterday went unnoticed. But, clearly, Dybala, Chiellini, and Buffon stole the show. With that in mind, I want to give the San Carlo to a unit: the fullbacks.

Dani Alves deserves heaps of credit for his performance. The one knock — and, granted, it was a bad one — was how freaking lost he looked on Iniesta’s run up the left wing. Alves literally did a 360 he was so lost (watch the replay!). The pass was sheer sexiness, and the run was intelligent, and maybe it would’ve been bad if Alves had had it covered, but that was a serious lapse in concentration.

Everything else from the ex-Barcelona player was what we needed. He was in truly fine fettle with his coverage on Neymar; maybe that’s why he missed the Iniesta run! He created, he distributed. He had the exact performance we needed him to have.

And Sandro. Messi did most of his work in the center-left of the pitch, and while that’s part of his role at Barcelona it also seems we may have Sandro to thank. The Brazilian is a rock a left back. Goodness gracious I hope he likes it in Turin, because other than locking down Dybala — if this remains possible, which it may not — I’m not sure there’s anything I’d rather see than Sandro inked in the Juventus backline for the next seven years.

Lingotto Award

For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.

In a game where Juventus secured 32 percnt of the possession and yet won 3-0, I think the midfield deserves a ton of credit. I actually have a small qualm about Sam’s ratings from yesterday, in that I’d flip the assessment of Khedira and Pjanic; I thought the latter was more on point yesterday, not even considering the corner.

But qualms and quibbles and questions aside, both were wisely restrained in their forward movement and disciplined in their defensive structure. The edge for Pjanic is in his passing efficiency. I thought Khedira looked a bit frazzled in possession, and it shows in the passing statistics: a 66 percent passing accuracy on 46 touches, compared to Pjanic’s 87 percent on 47.

(Also, side note: the yellow card on Khedira was horse manure. There were some strange calls and no-calls. The handball on Chiellini was a handball IMO; don’t get mad at me. But I don’t feel bad since Juventus were tagged with a phantom offsides on a later goal. The yellows on Mr. No Good and Khedira, what the hell?)

Parco Valentino Award

For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.

You may know him as an underwear model, or maybe as an official endorser of Pokerstars, or maybe even as a goalie, but I think of him as a friendly 39-year-old uncle figure who’s slightly eccentric but randomly at a family event takes me aside and gives me some mind-blowing advice with his arm sort of draped around my shoulder, the kind of advice maybe my did would try to give me but it wouldn’t hit because he’s my dad and it’s just too close. But Uncle Gigi Buffon shows up at precisely the right time in my life to tell me precisely what I need to know and therefore irrevocably

Giuseppe Garibaldi Award

For the man of the match.

Oh gosh. Of course it’s a push between Dybala and Chiellini, and here’s why our defensive dwarf-giant-ogre-man with his master’s degree deserves it as much as La Joya: Leonardo Bonucci was not at his best, and the Bianconeri therefore needed Chiellini to be at his career best. He acquiesced. He won more aerial battles than Bonucci, passed with greater accuracy on more touches, and doubled Bonucci in clearances. This is not a knock against Bonucci; he was fine. He covered well and made good decisions, the early near-gaff notwithstanding.

Chiellini was King Kong and then, on the corner kick he was more precise than the earth’s perfect distance from the sun. Which is very precise! If we were, like, ten inches closer we’d all be fiery demons, and if we were, like, ten inches farther away we’d all be, um, ice demons. That’s how precise Chiellini was, and he managed the precision with a defender draped over him.

Then there’s this dude who you may have heard of and his name is Paulo Dybala. I can’t imagine the thoughts streaming through La Joya’s beautiful brain before this game: Possibly the most important game of his (young) life, going up against a team who everybody and their cousin is linking him with, going up against a compatriot who everyone is comparing him to, with the whole world waiting his burst into stardom.

Burst, he did.

When he scored the first one — an impeccable finish, made a bit easier by the four (!) Barcelona defenders around Dybala who declined to mark him; freaking Pique literally did not take a step toward Dybala, even when our jewel took his first touch; instead, Pique just bunny-hopped to his right and turned because he didn’t want to get hit by the ball (!!) — I nearly leapt out of my barstool, and I said many f-bombs of excitement, and the following exchange occurred between me and one of the the annoying-as-hell Barcelona “supporters” to my right:

Me: *Screaming bloody murder with happiness and nearly falling out of barstool because Dybala just scored against Barcelona in the opening minutes*

Barcelona dude: *Bewildered expression* Wow, you really care!

Me: *Extremely salty at this point* Yeah, I do. *Deciding whether or not to make an antagonistic comment, which of course I decide to do* Do you care?

Barcelona dude: Not really.

Me: *Salty*

[Some time passes.]

Barcelona dude: *Talking to his friend but clearly wanting me to overhear him* Man, is this normal?

Yes, my friend. It’s normal when you learn to love.

Dybala’s performance against Chievo over the weekend reminded us what we already know: he’s a world-beater. He just didn’t tally the goals. Against Barcelona, on the world’s biggest stage, he changed that.

He’s officially here — not just for us, but for everyone. I hope to hell he stays. But if he goes, watching him will still be a reminder of why the game is called the beautiful game.

Limoncello

A small delight after the main course.

In my evolution into fandom I have discovered the following, rather jarring fact about Juventus: the Bianconeri are the giant in Italy, and the dark horse in Europe.

Maybe it’s extremely obvious to every other Juventus supporter, but to me it’s quite new, and a very strange and compelling idea and experience as a fan. In Italy Juventus, at least during this most recent run, are expected to win. Every game in football can be treacherous, but when the Bianconeri go play Pescara this weekend they’re damn well supposed to win, as they should be. In Italy, they’re Big Brother. But to people in Germany, Juventus are second to Bayern. In Spain, second to Barcelona and Real Madrid. In England, because the English are crazy, clubs like Manchester United and City and Chelsea, if for no other reason than their saturated exposure, reign supreme.

But for us, dear friends, Juventus are Juventus.

Win or lose, with or without Dybala, before and after Buffon, in Italy and out, in seasons of top-table dominance and mid-table frustration, in Champions League glory or shame, we follow the black and white.