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Farewell to the prince: In appreciation of Claudio Marchisio

Juventus FC v US Citta di Palermo - Serie A Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

After 25 years, 25 long years, Claudio Marchisio and Juventus parted ways last Friday.

You must forgive me both for the tardiness of this piece, and that flat opening line. It took me a while to process this news, and put my thoughts, feelings, and emotions — of which there were plenty — into perspective. For reference, I myself am merely 23 years old. Age, and time itself, is merely a number. For all that I have felt that I have seen, done and experienced in that time, football and the love for the Old Lady an integral part of that, Claudio Marchisio has seen, done and experienced more while just being registered as a Juventus player.

The journey wasn’t smooth sailing. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Marchisio was born and raised in Turin. He joined the club’s youth ranks at the young age of 7. He remained with the club’s youth ranks all the way through to 2005-06, when he both frequently trained with the first team under Fabio Capello, and captained the Primavera side to their first Campionato Nazionale Primavera in 12 years. He was only given his senior debut in the darkest of the club’s times, though. Fresh from the elation of World Cup success, with her name disgraced and tail tucked between the legs, Juventus took to the pitch in Serie B for the 2006-07 season. This is where Marchisio got his chance, and he wore the famed stripes 26 times that year. Following our return to Serie A, Marchisio spent his only year away from the club, on loan at Empoli for some first tier experience.

Juventus FC v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by New Press/Getty Images

You may say the rest is history, but the truth of the matter is that even for someone like me, despite being there at that time, our recent successes has rendered my memory of those dark days to an almost distant dream.

In between 2008 and 2011, Juve’s squad was shambolic, and the results even worse. What started with promise under the continued guidance of Claudio Ranieri, and the young, fresh excitement of Ciro Ferrara, quickly culminated in disaster. I remember the two back to back seventh-place finishes. I remember being 1-0 up at Craven Cottage (4-1 on aggregate), only to lose 4-1 (5-4 on aggregate) to Fulham. Italy’s most successful team, the team with the most Ballon d’Or winners in history, was not only still struggling to earn some respect again, but struggling to avoid becoming a laughing stock of the footballing world, and a has been team. One of the few bright spots of those miserable years, was the rise of Il Principino.

This has often been said while discussing the depressing truth of Juventus’ youth system’s pathetic success rate at churning out players capable of making the jump to the first team, but I think it is worth revisiting. The only player of the last decade-and-a-half who seamlessly made the transition from primavera to the first team, only did so because of the relegation to Serie B and years struggling as a mid-table team. This is a fact.

But the same way that we criticize Daniele Rugani for not making a starting spot his own post-Leonardo Bonucci’s “long-term” departure, fortune favors the brave, and quiet as he may be in the public eye, Marchisio was braver and more determined than most of us will ever be able to truly comprehend. He did whatever was necessary to earn his stripes. He played as a trequartista when needed. He played as a makeshift left winger when needed. He gave it all on the pitch, and he said it all on the pitch. Despite being in a dressing room with Gigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Giorgio Chiellini, Mauro Camoranesi, and David Trezeguet, he emerged as a leader on AND off the pitch.

Marchisio understood — and still does — the value of the shirt, the weight of the history that came with it. He understood the philosophy that “form is temporary, class is permanent”. He understood that the team came first, and that winning was the only thing that mattered. He was never one for the headlines. For the juicy publicity. For the drama. No, he quietly went about his duty, and one of the great tragedies of modern day football, is that players of his caliber, quality, and skill set, will always go unheralded. In his true prime, his absence from the pitch was felt more than his presence. He never appeared particularly vocal as a leader on the pitch, and always came across as a little quiet and reserved with the press — a stark contrast to a leader like Buffon, who could always be seen rallying the troops and marshaling his defense on the pitch, and was naturally candid and charismatic with the press. However, ask an Alvaro Morata or Paulo Dybala, and they’ll likely tell you that Marchisio was the one who took them under his wing, and helped them understand the weight of the shirt they wore, as well as navigate the challenges that came with it.

Juventus v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

I suppose this piece thusfar is somewhat akin to free form poetry (or maybe I’m just flattering myself?). I guess what I’m trying to say is, rest assured, there is a point I’m trying to bring home. With the arrival of Andrea Agnelli, Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici in 2010, and Antonio Conte in 2011, things changed for Juventus. Fortunes changed. And the success that that era has dawned upon us, is something whose high we’re still drunk on. Andrea Pirlo, Andrea Barzagli, Bonucci, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez ... the list goes on. They are all players who came in, and played vital roles in this turn of the tide. Not to mention the physical recoveries and form rediscoveries of Buffon and Chiellini.

But if you ask me, the most important player of these last seven years has been Claudio Marchisio.

From the makeshift left winger pre-Conte, to the swashbuckling all-action goal scorer at the start of Conte’s era, to the tactical mastermind defensive shield that let Vidal, Pogba and Pirlo do what they did best at the end of Conte’s era, to the (and I cannot state this enough) man who made the transition away from Pirlo at regista seamless at the start of Allegri’s era, to the sub who just couldn’t buy minutes after a nightmare knee injury, Claudio Marchisio has seen, done, and experienced it all. Seven scudettos, four Coppa Italias, two Champions League finals. The arrivals of Pogba, Dybala, Morata, Rugani, and Alex Sandro, to the departures of legends like Camoranesi, Trezeguet, Del Piero, and Buffon, Marchisio has seen, done, and experienced it all, and helped the players, the fans and the squad evolve through it all. Not the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed.

Juventus FC v FC Crotone - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

As alluded to earlier, it took me a few days to process this, and make sense of it. Logically, Marchisio doesn’t occupy a squad position that denies someone else a spot on the roster, because he is one of only two homegrown players (the other being Carlo Pinsoglio) Juve have on the roster. Was this contract termination necessary?

However, I woke up this morning to a heartfelt letter written by Claudio himself, and an Instagram live story of him on a Turin rooftop, interacting with fans and followers as he got ready to visit the training ground and say goodbye to his teammates. It wasn’t hard to see the emotion in his eyes. It was at this point that I think that I finally understood. Much has been speculated about, but I think the truth of the matter is that those who make the decisions, and that I trust to do so, Allegri, Agnelli and Marotta, decided that Marchisio could only be a bit-part player going forward. And in a moment of rare truth when the phrase is thrown around, it truly was a mutual decision to pull the plug on this beautiful journey.

Juventus are desperate to build their brand, and build on the enormous success of the past few years. They have a vision for the squad. And true to his immense character, Marchisio doesn’t want to hold them back. He had one last selfless gift for us. He is aware of the power, love and influence he holds with die hard Juventinos. No player is bigger than the club, he knows this better than most. He didn’t want to become the problem that holds the club hostage to sentiment, and the club didn’t want to let him face the struggle of convincing some team that he still has much to give, and he’s worth paying even a pittance for. A mutual, respectful understanding. An amiable end, to a beautiful story, relationship, and friendship. Still a better love story than Twilight.

I never had the chance to grow up watching Del Piero, Zidane, or Buffon blossom. However, I was lucky enough to grow up, and become an adult, watching the team I love most led by example by a player I’ve seen grow up and become a man and leader before my eyes. Through dark times, and bright times. Graceful in defeat, classy in victory. The team always came first, and he leaves on his own terms, with 25 years of memories on his shoulders, and a legacy that none of us here, today, will ever forget. He came quietly and unheralded, he conquered quietly and unheralded, and he leaves us quietly, through the back door with little drama, leaving however, a gaping void that will need some filling.

Thank you for everything, Little Prince.

And if you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me as I ramble. I needed this, and penning my thoughts has actually brought me some comfort. I hope its able to do the same for those who feel this as strongly as I do. I leave you with some words from the man himself, an excerpt from his letter today morning, the rest of which you can find here, and a video that still gives me goosebumps.

“When you realise that what has been your life for 25 years will all of a sudden be part of what it was, there is only one way to keep winning and it’s to know that in any case, I won’t lose any of this because it’ll always be part of me and I’ll always be part of it, wherever I will be. With love forever, Claudio.”