And just like that ... it’s all over.
A fascinating and enjoyable season of highs and lows, bumps and jumps, comes to a remarkable ending. Yet again, this extraordinary Juventus team has brought in shiny silverware to add to its ever-growing, record-breaking trophy cabinet. A smooth 12th Coppa Italia trophy and a sixth consecutive Scudetto title set the team up for the almighty encounter against Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Given that I’m still relatively emotionally scarred from that event, I’m not going to talk about that last event too much.
May (and early June) was a month of endings and thus follows the last monthly wrap-up of the season!
Although the team secured a barely-believable SIXTH consecutive domestic title (seriously guys, just take that in again… SIX TITLES IN A ROW), it certainly wasn’t a picture-perfect finish to the marathon. The lads slogged it out in a last-gasp, lackluster Derby Della Mole draw before crumbling to a lifeless defeat to red-hot Roma at the Olimpico. Thankfully, we could afford this end-of-the-season decline because of the ‘easy’ two fixtures against Crotone and Bologna that concluded the season. This spared us all the completely unnecessary and unwanted final day drama — and the unsavory spike in blood pressure — that nobody but the neutral would enjoy seeing.
The team’s response in the Coppa Italia final was absolutely immense and shows the depths that this Juventus team can tap into when it needs to do so. It reminded me of the sky-high standards of performance that I expect of this team and, in some weird way, made me wonder if I expect the same of myself in my own personal life as well. Nevertheless, we were fortunate to be treated to a most joyful final second of the league season as Moise Kean secured his maiden Serie A goal by scoring a 94th minute winner against Bologna!
Arrivederci, Serie A! See you next season!
“It is a good life we lead, brother."
"The best. May it never change."
"And may it never change us.”
Federico and Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed II)
I referred to this in my Crotone match review, but I think it’s worth revisiting and elaborating on once again. Since the last year or so, I’ve become utterly obsessed with this concept of mentality. What IS it actually? I mean just in the objective, scientific sense: what the heck is this creature called ‘a winning mentality’, ‘a losing mentality’; a positive mindset versus a negative and destructive one? It’s a question that has begun to capture my mind on a surprisingly philosophical level in both the realm of sport and my personal life endeavors. Perhaps it really kicked my brain into gear when I heard these words on a podcast I listen to regularly called The Art of Charm:
“As individuals we’re becoming so empowered today, that mindset is the only restrictor. There’s no lack of capital: we have $15 to $20 billion dollars in crowdfunding. There’s more angel capital and venture capital than any time before. So capital is not an issue. Access to knowledge is not an issue: with Google you can know anything you want [instantly]. Access to experts is not an issue. Access to computing power is not an issue.
So then what is the scarce resource? The scarce resource is the passionate, committed mind. The person who says ok, I am going to make this happen.”
Peter Diamandis (The Art of Charm Episode 587)
In the footballing realm, this existential question of mindset struck me most powerfully in our semi-final encounters against Monaco. Before I say anything, though, I obviously must commend Max Allegri for an absolutely phenomenal display of tactical nous against our French opponents. Still though, I saw something beyond that. Monaco are a phenomenal team that had a fantastic season, beating some very tough opponents along the way. However, as terribly cliché as this has become, those two semi-final matches genuinely did look like boys against men. For the first time, I saw this concept of experience — and, by extension, the mentality that comes with it — manifest itself so tangibly that it made such a strong team look completely overawed and subdued by the occasion.
Then I looked at how these brilliant Juventus players constantly emphasize this mentality before games (remember that great story about Andrea Barzagli and Paulo Dybala on the training ground?) and during games (just look at the strong, focused manner in which they communicate with one another). I think about the stratospheric effect that somebody like Antonio Conte, who utterly embodies this mentality, had on this team when he led our resurrection to the top of Italian and, to an extent, European football. I look at how we hunger for more, year after year, title after title.
I look further at other winning teams and individuals both in football and in other sports and again, along with their unquestionably great talent, I see this ruthless and relentless mentality show up over and over again. All of this eventually brought me back to one of my favorite quotes that I heard once upon a time from, coincidentally, Zinedine Zidane himself (though for the life of me, I can’t figure out when/where he said it) and that I always like to read slowly to really capture its power:
“When I was young, there were many kids that were better than I was. The difference was that I had the mentality, and they didn’t.”
It took me years to understand the priceless value of a winning mentality, yet now I’m obsessed with it. For the most part, I have our wonderful club Juventus to thank for this. All in all, I hope that I can transmit it to my personal life for the sake of positive life pursuits, but for now I’ll just stick to learning as much as I can about it from La Vecchia Signora.
King of Sorrow
For better or for worse, nights like those in Cardiff are the ones that we live for as fans. In the week or so leading up to the game, I experienced almost the full range of the emotional spectrum: the passion, the excitement, the fear, the hope, the anxiety. To think that all this was only in the buildup to the game! The feelings were crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until, of course, that feeling of soul-piercing despair and anguish.
And all of these remnants of joy and disaster
What am I supposed to do?
Sade; King of Sorrow
I suppose I knew but simultaneously didn’t know just how emotionally attached I am to this game and to this club. I was strangely surprised (and maybe a little frightened) at the fact that I could have such an emotional attachment to a group of grown-ass men kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. But then it brought me back to the words of Sid Lowe (or was it Jonathan Wilson?) speaking in the Blizzard Football Quarterly:
More than any sport, football can make a people feel that they are being represented…
Different cultures can express themselves through their approach to the game. As you live, so you play.
With regards to that game itself, I was actually going to write elaborately about just how personally insulted I was by Sergio Ramos’s deplorable, despicable actions in that game. However, as the old excerpt from the Bible tells us, don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Obviously I am proud of the team for their performances this year, but at the same time I hate harping on with this “so proud of them” because it starts to feel patronizing. It’s a similar feeling to how patronizing it is to give kids “participation prizes” at the end of a sports event.
And I will never contend with just being a participant. I didn’t become a Juve fan to be “proud” of how much we participated.
I came here to win.