When you’re talking to someone and you start your end of the conversation by saying something like, “I don’t want to sound [something], but...” you’ve pretty much pigeonholed yourself into sounding [something]. It’s usually not the way to begin. You’ve shown your cards. You’ve startled your audience into a corner, where they may become feral.
But that’s how I’m going to begin: I don’t want to sound sanctimonious, but some of the reactions from Juventus fans are beyond my understanding.
And I think I can understand a lot. I could understand anger and frustration and disappointment and emotional whiplash — after Mario Mandžukić scored, I screamed so loudly for so long that I was immediately horse, and not an hour later I couldn’t feel a thing; I’m sure I’m not alone in this — I could understand pride and questioning of the management and questioning of the players, but the one reaction for which I have no understanding or empathy is this:
I just can’t follow this team anymore.
I’ve seen it. A lot. It makes my blood boil. Because that’s exactly what being a fan is about: it’s about watching and loving and screaming for your team game after game, whether they win or lose, whether the management is a bunch of brainless baboons or clairvoyant geniuses, whether they play in the Champions League final two out of three years or whether they hum along the middle of the Serie A table. It’s about the shirt, not what happens in the shirt.
To be perfectly frank, if that’s your attitude with your fandom of Juventus, you may be headed out the door soon. Because for all the talent this current squad has, there are questions of which many of you are surely aware.
The average age of the Juventus starting 11 against Real Madrid was almost 31, the second oldest lineup to ever start a Champions League final game. Paulo Dybala was the only player for Juventus under the age of 26, and Juventus had three players 34 years old or older. And that’s just the starting lineup. Juventus just extended Mandžukić (31), and just finalized the outright purchases of Juan Cuadrado (29) and Medhi Benatia (30). A year ago, the club paid €90 million for a striker who’s 29 years old. None of this is to even mention the rather large elephant in the room that is Gigi Buffon: he’s 39 years old, and all jokes aside he’s not getting better.
After the question of age comes the question of financial resources: Real Madrid’s average salary is €5.9 million. Juventus has a single player who makes more than that on an annual basis. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi make almost as much in a year as Juve’s entire squad. Real Madrid just purchased the right to a teenager in Brazil for €45 million; the kid is 16 years old, and because of regulations can’t legally see the field for Real until he’s 18, and he’ll probably have to wait much longer than that. Juventus don’t have this capability. It’s not an open checkbook. Despite the high revenues this year because of the Champions League run and continued dominance in Serie A, Juventus is one-third of Real Madrid financially.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying: That Juventus should throw in the towel and launch a total rebuild. With the right moves and the right spending, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be in Kiev a year from now. But what I am saying is that between the aging roster and very real financial limitations of the club, there’s never — at least in the foreseeable future — going to be a time when Juventus will be able to consistently achieve the level of play that Real Madrid are able to, if not only because Real can purchase whomever they wish whenever they’d like.
I don’t understand how fans don’t consider this in their reactions. Was Juventus fully capable of beating that Real team? Yes. Was Juventus an underdog? Yes. But Max Allegri’s team fought like hell, and they worked with different resources, and they were a single bad half of football away from completing the Treble. The age and finances don’t even consider the comically imbalanced lineup that Allegri turned into a Euro-fighting side: a target forward at left wing, a right back at right wing, a center back at right back.
Credit to Real Madrid for a hell of a game. They absorbed the blow in the first half, made adjustments, and kicked Juve’s ass in second. But Real Madrid are a team with almost literally limitless financial resources; they’re a purchased team, a hired hand. I don’t want to sound salty about it, because if Juventus received an anonymous 500 million Euros in transfer funds I wouldn’t bat an eye. But part of this year’s run is the collection of overlooked players who’ve passed their primes, in whom Allegri and Juventus still believed, or for whom Juventus paid next to nothing.
I am immensely proud of this team. I am immensely proud of Allegri. I derive an immense amount of satisfaction from this loss. I think if you cut me open now, you’d see black and white.