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On Claudio Marchisio and narratives

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A few thoughts on the recently-retired Juventus legend.

Udinese Calcio v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

I’m a big fan of going down internet wormholes. You know the kind — you get mildly curious about a certain subject and end up, a couple hours later, deeply enthralled in a long-form article about a pair of Kentucky-born farmers that bossed the croquet courses in the 1980s. With no discernible path from where you started to where you ended up, it just happens.

(The Kentucky farmers thing is not a joke; it’s legitimately a great read that I highly encourage you to check out if you have a few minutes to spare.)

Going down one of the aforementioned wormholes, I stumbled upon a description of Narrative Psychology. Not to get too much into the weeds, but what this theory stands for is that the best way to understand human behavior is to through stories and narrative. That we as a species are drawn to finding meaning in events, not to chalk them up to logical formulations or conclusions.

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense: When something happens to us, we very rarely ascribe it to just happenstance. It’s a miracle. It’s meant to be, faith, destiny, what have you. It’s never because stuff just happens, you know? Probably because if you decide to accept that stuff and it just happens willy nilly, it’s only natural to get into an existential debate about actions and consequences and predetermined outcomes. It’s easier and more fun, to be honest, to say that things happen for a reason, God or whatever you subscribe to.

So, if you decide to abide by this theory, it sure says something that former Juventus midfielder and lifelong Juventino Claudio Marchisio retired two weeks ago, at the young age of 33, with what you would think a few years of football still left in his legs.

Thinking narratively, it’s poetic that Marchisio, out of all of the vaunted MVPP midfield from the early goings of this current Scudetto run, would be the one to announce his retirement with Juventus. The boy, who rose through the Juve youth academy ranks, played through the dark years and ended up becoming one of the top midfielders in Italy at his boyhood club.

FBL-EUR-C1-CELTIC-JUVENTUS Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images

It’s also tragic that his retirement came under the circumstances it did, exiled by the only club he knew and left in free agent limbo for months before deciding to call it quits. That the most often overlooked and underrated player of that legendary midfield would be the one to retire so soon, makes some narrative sense.

If you want to make the “story” even more poetic, you could argue that his mere ousting from the club was a signal of time changing at Juventus. Marchisio was a homegrown player that never wanted to leave and tried as hard as he could to bring value to the club before finally being dismissed because Juventus valued other players more, because he just wasn’t good enough. Loyalty, sentimentality, love for the club didn’t really matter anymore.

That this dismissal occurred at roughly the same time as Juventus was going through a massive change in attitude and finance power only adds fuel to this theory, a seeming change of the guard where profits and success mattered more and more and the romantic sense of football and family seemed to matter less.

And if you think this whole theory is maybe too much on the nose? Well, it’s because it is.

There’s another side of the story, one in which a player unfortunately gets injured, never quite manages to get back to form, is acquired by another team and then he retires at age 33, a relatively young age for everyone in the planet except for the game of football, where youth is the name of the game and very few players manage to play deep into their 30s.

Sometimes ligaments give out and legs make weird turns and despite the advancements of modern medicine none of it it’s enough. It happens, and Marchisio is not the first and won’t be the last player to have his career cut short by injuries.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter how you want to interpret the story of Claudio Marchisio and Juventus. If you want to make it a tragically poetic history of underrated talent or just a relatively unlucky tail end of a mostly successful career.

He retires with 389 appearances as a Juventus player. He’s a seven-time Italian champion and four-time Coppa Italia winner. Marchisio was an Italian national team mainstay for the better part of a decade, with 55 caps for the Azzurri and five goals to his name on the international stage. Il Principino retired as an icon and symbol of Juventus’ rebirth and one of the last reminders of the least successful period in Juventus history. When we look back on his career the things that will stand out the most won’t be the injuries or his time at Zenit St. Petersburg – where he won the Russian championship, because winning is a habit — but we will remember the all-around midfielder that made his Juventus debut in Serie B and had his Juventus goodbye as Italian champion.

We will remember that goal against Inter Milan and the undeniable chemistry and connection he shared with the other members of the MVPP midfield. We will remember his passion, his game and his love for the club. It was a love that was given back to him by the fans every single time he donned the black and white.

Juventus FC v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

I know how I will remember him as one of the key cogs of the 2014-15 team that made the Champions League final. Right after defeating Real Madrid in the semifinals, a matchup that nobody gave Juventus a chance in and tie where Marchisio and Juve were finally back right in the spotlight of world football and ended up walking out of Santiago Bernabeu winners.

Best of luck in retirement, Claudio, you’re a true bianconero through and through.