In April, we saw the good-ish (that dramatic night in Madrid), the bad (that woeful draw with Crotone), the ugly (the despicable performance and loss against Napoli), and the utterly insane (the Derby D’Italia victory). I usually start with an introduction to ease you into the monthly wrap-up, but given how much there is to discuss from what was a nervous wreck of a month, I’ll spare you the preamble.
To the heart seeking freedom...
A sport that gives me so much and yet also takes so much from me. I became attached to football because I sought an emotional escape from the shortcomings of my regular life. An emotional jolt to make me feel alive again and a different world to get lost in. Nothing in my life has given me the intensity of emotion as football has (given that I don’t have a spouse or child as I remain painfully single). Yet, that fateful night in Madrid reminded me that the one place of refuge that I turn to for emotional escape sometimes becomes a prison of heartache.
“To the heart seeking freedom, this island is a prison surrounded by water. And so this boy sought to escape from his prison. He sought a way to cross over into other worlds.”
This was one of the most emotionally turbulent Champions League campaigns since I became a Juventino (early 2005). The 3-0 heartbreak against Barcelona, that incredible night at
the Roxbury Wembley, and then this remarkable, insane double-header against a club that I quite remarkably now hate more than Inter.
Before the second leg, I lamented (in an admittedly very defeatist tone) that the grotesque financial weight of the big-bad
beetleborgs footballing juggernauts was simply too much to ever be able to overcome. Just for the record, I do need to publicly apologize for my lack of faith as I was clearly off the mark there. Still though, I said in the comments that I believe that the extraordinary, consolidated financial might of clubs like Real Madrid does not necessarily guarantee success, but certainly does sustain it once it comes to pass.
Yet, after that remarkable and tragic night in Madrid, I don’t know what I should think anymore. Obviously, I will never abandon a club that I have followed for so long, but I am painfully unsure about our future prospects of overcoming the financial might of Europe’s biggest clubs. As I also said in the comments, and on a somewhat related note, this whole money talk made me think that a club like Real Madrid can play like crap and still win the Champions League (or consistently reach finals), while clubs like Juventus can play like crap and “only” just about win the Serie A.
As was the case right after that game, my writing (and my mind) is still a bit of a mess at the moment. Hence, I don’t know what my point behind all of this is other than to sadly lament what could have been, would have been, and oh so desperately should have been.
The infamous penalty decision.
Do I agree or disagree with it? That’s not really the point. The point is that we got ourselves into a situation where such a marginal decision would spell the end for us. Regardless of that, this controversy turned the aftermath of the quarter final into a really dark and ugly affair. As a result, the Internet was absolutely set ablaze. The nastiest abuse was hurled from one side to the other in moments of unconstrained, raw anger. People were so caught up by this darkness that death threats were even being thrown around.
“And so this boy sought to escape from his prison. He sought a way to cross over into other worlds. And he opened his heart to darkness.”
We always have a choice as to how we react in situations like these. I’m pretty sure we all noticed the animosity, anger, and, of course, darkness that many of us chose to resort to in order to escape the heartache of the defeat. I will admit that I too, unfortunately, took part in this. In such heated and intense moments, the emotional shackles always come off.
It’s a dark path to go down, you know, allowing all that talk to enter your heart: UEFA conspiracies, Real Madrid corruption, the alleged inherent incompetence of English referees, the criticism of Collina for all kinds of reasons, and more. I had to actively guard against going down that road because it was oh-so-tempting (the worst it got was my deep distaste for that Portuguese bloke and the club he plays for).
“Don’t bother. Your voice can no longer reach him where he is. His heart belongs again to darkness… In the end, every heart returns to the darkness whence it came. You see, darkness is the heart’s true essence.”
Football has the capacity to bring out the best and most beautiful in people, while also the darkest and worst. Do I understand why we saw so much of the latter after the game? Of course I do. Do I blame, judge, or chastise anyone for it? Absolutely not, because I too was guilty. In fact, writing this makes me realize how much I still struggle to reconcile the emotional being within me with the rational one.
However, despite my increasingly strained relationship with this beautiful game, I’m still so tightly, emotionally bound to it that I will certainly remain so till the day I die. So as my heart still desperately seeks freedom, I’ll continue to try to make sense of this journey of emotional highs and intensely painful lows.
Let’s not fight, I’m tired, can’t we just sleep tonight?
Turn away, it’s just there’s nothing left here to say.
Turn around, I know we’re lost but soon we’ll be found.
Sami Khedira: Resurgence
The man that had the unfortunate honor of inspiring the Shroud of Turin award (aka the Casper the Friendly Ghost
of Sparta award) has experienced a surprising resurgence in form. Sami Khedira, so frequently mocked over the last few months for his uninspiring performances, has been one of the standout performers in midfield for the team lately. The German notched a crucial goal and assist against Milan on the last day of March, a neat assist against his former club at the Bernabéu, and a goal against Sampdoria in the middle of the month. It’s still not quite Ballon D’Or stuff from Big Sami, but he certainly deserves due recognition and appreciation for his impressive performances of late. Whether he’ll keep this up, however, remains to be seen…
Paulo Dybala: the individual or the collective?
He has huffed and puffed and toiled, yet still it is clear to most of us that Paulo Dybala is not playing at his maximum capacity at all for Juventus. I forget who said it, but someone in the comments argued that if a player like Dybala played under a coach like Jurgen Klopp instead of Allegri, he would be banging in goals by the truckloads. Hence, fans are beginning to grumble that the system that Max Allegri uses for the team constrains a creative superstar like Dybala and makes him unable to play at his very best.
This is one of those discussions that leads us to the fascinating “individual vs. the collective” debate. That is, should the collective be prioritized over the individual, such that it is acceptable to see the team do (reasonably) well at the cost of stifling the talent of the brilliant individual? Or should the collective have to compromise in order to allow this superstar to play at his full potential? In other words, as long as Juventus (just about) wins titles with a given system or style of play, does that justify the fact that Allegri’s system undermines the individual brilliance of a player like Dybala?
I leave it to you to debate!
The troubling case of Miralem Pjanic
Then there’s another player that has recently caught the eye of Juventini, albeit again for the wrong reasons. The sub-par performances of Miralem Pjanic have left many fans of the Bianconeri extremely worried and unhappy as the Bosnian has looked lethargic, sloppy, and surprisingly prone to bookings. On the one hand, some are suggesting that the ‘regista’ position at the base of midfield is not suited to his abilities and undermines his potential.
But on the other hand, people also rightly point out that due to the currently available midfield personnel for Juventus, we simply cannot afford to play Pjanic in any other position. Once again, we are reminded of the troubling existential challenge that currently plagues the club: the midfield. As a result, it’s simply not up for debate anymore; this summer, strengthening the midfield has to be the biggest priority for Juventus.