There are two pictures that stand out in my mind as ones that define 2018 for Juventus.
One had to do with two men who had given so much to this club and ended up leaving Turin within about two months of one another. The other, as you probably guessed, is of the man who instantly became the face of the club the instant he was pictured with Andrea Agnelli with a glass of champagne while on vacation in Greece.
2018 was a year of change for Juventus. And not just change like there were a couple of players going and a couple of players arriving to take their place.
No, no. This was a year a major change — both because of what left this club and what had arrived a handful of weeks later. There were plenty of other names to leave Juventus over the course of this past year — the man who is mainly responsible for assembling the roster over majority of the past decade Beppe Marotta and multiple-Scudetto winners Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah are the main names. But when you think of Gianluigi Buffon and Claudio Marchisio, you think of more than just Juve’s current title-winning streak or just how successful the club has been the last seven seasons.
The summer months wasn’t just about who left. It was also about who arrived — none bigger than Juve’s shocker of a signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. As two club icons departed on each end of the summer transfer window opening up, Ronaldo’s arrival signaled quite the change for Juventus, as they went out and got one of the two greatest players this generation — or ever, but we won’t get into that — has ever seen.
Two great leaders left Juventus, with a new face of the club coming from Madrid with the clear goal of ending nearly three decades of “almost” on European club football’s biggest stage.
These are two pictures that, in my mind, pretty much define two of the biggest storylines that Juventus’ year was all about.
I don’t need to tell you who’s hugging who in that picture above. Because if you don’t know, then you clearly aren’t doing it right.
Between Buffon and Marchisio, there’s over 1,000 appearances in Juventus colors hugging it out in that photo. (Seriously, think about something you’ve done 1,000 times in your life and how long it took. And then remember how many more appearances these two could have had if not for major injuries within the last decade.) It’s not just the four figures worth of appearances as why we simply adore them, though, but to first love a player you must see them on the field wearing the Juventus jersey — and we obviously saw that happen for the pretty much two decades straight.
Their stories of getting to Juventus are very different. Marchisio is the Turin-born midfielder who worked his way up through Juventus’ youth ranks to become the local kid who achieved his boyhood dream of wearing the colors he literally grew up wearing. Buffon, who was easily one of the best goalkeepers in the world by the time he was in his early-20s, arrived from Parma for a then-world record transfer fee in the summer 2001.
The two of them have gone on to become two of the most-beloved Juventus players there have ever been. They are Juventinos through and through — Buffon sticking with Juve even though they were sent down to Serie B in 2006, while Marchisio made his first team debut that same season.
Of course, their exits were very different. Buffon got the same kind of final bow that Alessandro Del Piero did on the season’s final day. He got the long standing ovation once Carlo Pinsoglio came on for Buffon early in the second half and then got to soak every bit of the unbelievable atmosphere at Allianz Stadium in.
The man who’s pictured above hugging Buffon as he comes off the field on that final day of the season didn’t get that kind of farewell, only to finally get acknowledged by his hometown faithful months later. Marchisio’s exit had been rumored for months, but it wasn’t until the summer transfer rumors final hours that Juventus sent out a press release that Il Principino’s contract had been terminated by mutual agreement.
Despite it all, it’s still getting some used to not seeing the names “Buffon” and “Marchisio” on the team sheet whenever Max Allegri announces his squad list for the next day’s game. We already know who’s wearing Buffon’s No. 1 jersey this season. It will be interesting to see who Juve hands the No. 8 to next season. (Hi, Rodrigo Bentancur makes sense, guys, thanks.)
The best thing going for Juventus even though Buffon and Marchisio aren’t around? GIorgio Chiellini has basically taken wearing the captain’s armband personal and is playing out of his gosh-dang mind and Wojciech Szczesny has been an absolute rock in goal as he solidifies himself as the new wearer of Juve’s No. 1 jersey.
I have a feeling Agnelli and Ronaldo weren’t the only people affiliated with Juventus who weren’t popping bottles on July 10.
Ronaldo’s arrival hasn’t just brought a whole bunch of new eyeballs on the club. (Although, as the person who mans the BWRAO Twitter account, I must say that it was rather nice to kinda fly under the radar in years past.) With everything that comes along with Ronaldo being on your club, the biggest one is the matter of expectations.
And raised expectations have been the norm — both in terms how of Juventus played (which hasn’t exactly been smoothing sailing) and what the end game of the season really is.
For the first time in years, Juventus players, its manager and the front office — was openly talking about how winning the Champions League is now a concrete expectation. No more of the “Our goal is to get to the Round of 16 and then we’ll see where it goes.” Juventus wants a deep run in Europe’s premier club competition to end with Chiellini raising the trophy above his head and then handing it off to Ronaldo amid confetti falling from the sky.
Obviously, the final verdict of the Ronaldo signing will be decided come the next few months and in the next few years. As much of an influx of income and social followers he has brought to Juventus, the main goal is to win the Champions League. That’s it. That’s why you bring somebody like Ronaldo to your club.
I’ve said in post-game threads before and I will say it once more here: I think that it’s a much better situation where Juventus is on the good side of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals compared to years past where they usually killed our collective souls. This is much more enjoyable.