In a new recurring space, BWRAO staff writers take a time to reflect on their worst losses as Juventus fans. This is Sports Heartbreak.
It is June 6, 2015.
It is the day of the UEFA Champions League final.
I’m 22 years old, sitting at a bar near downtown in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, where a number of unlikely circumstances brought me for an improvised summer break holiday. The place is packed to the gills with Barcelona fans, as my local friend Gui and I drink our umpteenth beer to try to stave off the merciless heat, a heat brought by an unseasonable heat wave and a busted air conditioner in the local watering hole we had decided to hang out at. About half an hour before kickoff we received a panicked message from another visiting friend, whom we were expecting much later in the day. His flight had been rescheduled, his connecting flight from Rio de Janeiro had taken off hours before he or we expected and he had arrived at Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo already. He had tried to contact us before, but spotty airport WiFi and even spottier roaming service had made his task impossible.
This was a problem.
While we were not far away from the airport, it was still a couple-hour journey into the bowels of Sao Paulo to go get my friend and get back to the bar — effectively meaning we would not be able to watch the game, which was a resounding nonstarter for me. Sao Paulo is a sprawling, chaotic, megacity, so there was no chance that my friend could get from the airport to us on public transportation without knowledge of the language — which he didn’t know — or spending an outrageous amount of money on a cab, which he did not have. Neither of us really wanted to leave to pick him up, but he had just finished the last leg of 15-plus-hour flight from Mexico to Brazil, which considering our shoestring budget had involved several layovers in what seemed to be half of south America. It seemed impolite, if not a straight up dick move, to tell him to hold tight for another couple hours while we watched the game.
And, listen, if it had been any other game, I would have been fine leaving. Really. But, not this one.
Juventus was the big story of that Champions League season. After years of disappointing European performances under Antonio Conte, first-year coach Massimiliano Allegri had managed to turn a team of cast-offs, veterans and youngsters into a Champions League finalist, beating the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and then, rather remarkably, Real Madrid in the semifinals. This was a team that, for all intents and purposes, should not be here and they were, rightfully may I add, big underdogs to the Barcelona juggernaut.
Before I continue, it really is worth mentioning how unlikely it is that that particular Juventus team had the run they did. Operating at a fraction of the cost of other European behemoths, the Bianconeri were somehow in the final. Just, take a look at that starting lineup:
- Carlos Tevez was previously a malcontent at Manchester City who was signed for €9 million
- Arturo Vidal was brought in from Bayern Leverkusen for €12.5 million
- Stephan Lichtsteiner transferred from Lazio for €9.9 million
- Leonardo Bonucci might as well have been homegrown player at that point, but at the time he was purchased from Genoa for €15.5 million
- Manchester United sold Patrice Evra to Juventus believing he was way over the hill and let him go for a smidge under €2 million
- Alvaro Morata was a loan from Real Madrid, but Juve had to pay €20 million as a loan fee. Making him for all intents and purposes, the biggest transfer tag in the starting lineup.
- Andrea Barzagli for €300K was by far the biggest bargain in this squad if it wasn’t for the fact that both Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo were straight up free. HOW?!
- Rounding up that lineup were the homegrown kids Claudio Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini, who would have otherwise been a starter if not for an ill-timed injury.
(If you want to split hairs about Gianluigi Buffon actually being the most expensive transfer in the lineup, you can do that and you would be factually right but spiritually wrong. That’s not the point I’m making and you know it, imaginary person.)
That’s a who’s who of “Remember that guy?” on the bench, with Angelo Ogbonna, Roberto Pereyra and the immortal Simone Padoin. But the interesting part is really the starters, it’s a lineup that features nothing but homegrown players, cast offs and veterans. There’s not a single player in there with a transfer tag of over €20 million, let’s go through them just for kicks:
Anyway, back to the story.
While Gui was a big football fan, he wasn’t a fan of either team so he decided to sacrifice himself and pick up my friend in his time of need. After promising him a drink when they came back and watching him leave, I soon realized that while I was going to be able to watch my beloved Juve in the Champions League final, I would be doing so alone in one of the most hostile territories I could imagine and in a foreign country. Bottoms up.
Even though my general expectations of the game were low and I was almost sure we would walk out of Berlin with a silver medal and another L to add to our already full cabinet. There was a small tinge of hope. Hey, we made it this far, right? Why not us?
Despite being severely outplayed in the first half due to a criminally defensive strategy by Allegri, something that would become a bit of a theme in his mostly successful tenure, Juventus was somehow down only one at halftime. As soon as the second half started, Juve seemed like a different team, they roared back, pushing Barcelona into their own side of the field and equalized through Morata’s goal 10 minutes into the half.
(In the pantheon of great moments in Juve history I don’t really rewatch because I know how it actually ends, that goal ranks just behind the Mario Mandzukic overhead kick goal in 2017.)
Why not us?!
The following 10 minutes might be the closest a Juventus team has been to taking the lead in a Champions League final this decade. Juventus continued to push Barcelona and seemed to gain the momentum of the match; the go ahead goal seemed within reach for the Bianconeri. At the 67-minute mark, Dani Alves and Pogba got tangled up in the box, for what looked like a possible penalty kick call. It was not given. Immediately after, during the ensuing mayhem, Barcelona unleashed a deadly counter attack that Ivan Rakitic calmly scored for the second Blaugrana goal of the evening.
Juventus would continue to push, but never seriously threaten the Barcelona keeper again. As the dying minutes of added time elapsed, a completely gassed Juventus team was caught in the counter yet again. Neymar coolly finished the 3-1 score line as the entire bar erupted in cheers.
I was drunk and alone. It’s a bizarre feeling to be miserable among so many happy people, like being at an ex’s wedding that you are not quite over. I tried to dial my friends, hoping they would be back soon and I could leave this place that was now bumping Brazilian reggaeton and was turning into a full blown party. This was hell on earth, I thought, as my cellphone continued to tell me in a robotic voice that it could not connect to the person I was trying to reach.
A group of Brazilian girls arrived at the place and started giving me the stink eye as I continued to occupy a table by myself — a hot commodity in a place that was quickly becoming completely full as day was turning into afternoon. A smarter, less depressed and less drunk man might have agreed to let them have the table and maybe ask if any of them spoke English and tried to mingle with the locals as I waited for my friends. I was not that type of man at the time, as I stubbornly ordered more drinks and explained in broken English/Spanish/Portuguese/Gibberish to the waitress that my friends were coming and to just, like, chill for a second.
After what seemed like an eternity, my two friends came back, bag packs in hand and ready to have a good time — which to be fair, everyone but me was definitely having. It was at that point as I continued to sulk and ruin everyone’s good vibes that I realized that I was being silly. Sure, my team had lost, so what? I was still on holiday with two very good friends of mine in Brazil! How much would I have to screw this up to not have a good time? It was way too late for us to shoot our shot with the Brazilian girls that were still waiting, all of which actively hated me at that time, but the night was young and the drinks were plenty and apparently you can drink on the street in certain parts of Brazil and isn’t that just dandy?
I did end up having a pretty good time, only interrupted by sporadic, half-coherent outbursts throughout the night where I would grab my friend and try to explain how that should have definitely been a penalty and we got screwed by the refs. That is sports heartbreak for you, it makes no logical, reasonable sense and yet it is still something that keeps happening to fans all over the world time and time again.
Being a fan is rarely rewarding. It is an ungrateful, illogical state of mind to care so much about something that you have no control over and that, in the grand scheme of things, matters so little. Then again, when that reward is the pure joy that you get after a big win it quickly becomes apparent why people do it.
It ended in a loss, but that loss doesn’t erase the baffled laughter when I saw Juve take a 3-0 lead against Borussia Dortmund in Germany to put the tie away. It doesn’t negate the amazement I felt when watching the defensive masterclass in a shutout over two legs against Monaco. Or the outright unbridled happiness as I jumped and screamed to the Morata goal that eliminated the mighty Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Caring has its consequences. For every low, there’s a high, and looking back on it, even though it was a pretty big low at the moment, I still take it, time and time again.
I’m still riding the roller coaster and I don’t think I will stop.