I usually start my monthly posts with a somewhat light-hearted and (hopefully) funny introduction. I do this in an attempt to set a relaxed tone so that we can at least start things off in a pleasant demeanor.
Well, no time to beat around the bush for this one. Why? Because February was an emotionally exhausting and tumultuous month of football for Juventus.
Run! The Heartless are coming!
Juventus opened the month in spectacularly chaotic fashion at home to Parma. After Cristiano Ronaldo and Daniele Rugani put the Bianconeri two goals up, Parma put themselves back in the game after a neat attack led to Antonino Barillà slotting an accurate header past Mattia Perin in goal. Was the comeback on? Ronaldo answered these fears by putting an exquisite header of his own past Luigi Sepe to restore the home team’s two-goal advantage.
Unfortunately, this is when things took a calamitous turn for the worse.
Veteran winger Gervinho scored with a clever behind-the-standing-leg flick to reduce the deficit to a solitary
man goal and just when Juve thought that surely, surely, it was too late for unexpected drama, they managed to shoot ourselves in the foot. A 93rd-minute Parma attack forced Juventus to defend at its own corner flag and led to Mario Mandzukic playing an uncharacteristically poor clearance to the opponent. The visitors played a few quick passes until Roberto Inglese — who had been a thorn in Juventus’ side all day — cut the ball back to Gervinho who side-footed the ball past Perin’s unconvincing punch to complete a remarkable comeback. Final score: 3-3.
Thankfully, things calmed down significantly in the subsequent two games as Juve notched consecutive 3-0 victories, first away to Sassuolo (goals from Sami Khedira, Ronaldo, and Emre Can) and then at home against Frosinone (goals from Paulo Dybala, Leonardo Bonucci
doing his best to kick Khedira in the face, and Ronaldo).
Then came the night that broke the collective hearts of Juventini all around the world — the Champions League Round of 16 first leg away against Atlético Madrid. Though the first half was decent enough, the second half saw the team from Madrid comprehensively outplay our beloved Bianconeri. Goals from Atléti’s two center backs Godín and Giménez condemned Allegri’s men to a disheartening 2-0 loss, but more on that later.
Oh, and there was also the 1-0 win away to Bologna, which was so drab and uninteresting that it warrants no more than this one sentence of recognition.
There seems to be a significant lack of joy around Juventus games lately. Juventini bemoan the regularity of what has become a painfully predictable routine: a cagey game with few clear-cut chances for — and little incisive attacking play by — Juventus somehow results in a scrappy goal or two in favor of the Bianconeri to secure an unspectacular victory. Juventus will often also have to stave off an unnecessarily dangerous late rally from the opponents because the team fails to kill the game off early (e.g. the Parma game).
On one hand, I agree with those who say that “if you want to see a show, you can go to the circus [because] we’re in the business of winning games.” I don’t demand extravaganza or champagne football on the pitch; I want three points. That said, many of us watch football because we yearn to feel the raw, intense emotion that we can’t find elsewhere in our lives. We turn to football because we think “Yes, here’s somewhere I can feel that emotion that I can’t feel anywhere else.”
“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
— Danny Blanchflower, quoted in Page 397 of “The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football”)
Perhaps you turn to football because it is, as the wonderful Jorge Valdano once said, “the opposite of technology precisely because of its exaggeratedly human condition: contradictory, primitive, emotional.” You want excitement, you want thrill, you want passion! But then you experience this heartless, soul-blunting lack of emotion from Juventus’ current style of play, and it evokes a visceral reaction in your heart. You want more than this. You need more than this.
“I play therefore I am: a style of play is a way of being that reveals the unique profile of each community and affirms its right to be different. Tell me how you play and I will tell you who you are.”
— Eduardo Galeano
I say all this to offer the following argument: your opinion regarding the current state of Juventus’ style of play is a function of the reason you watch football. If you follow this chaotically beautiful game to feel joy, to escape, to engage the romantic side of your soul that is painfully starved of emotion in other areas of your life, or to finally have the platform to express those intense feelings that you can’t express anywhere else, you will aggressively rebel against the current poverty of the Bianconeri’s play.
However, if you watch football for purely pragmatic and Machiavellian reasons — I want results, I want to win, I want to be associated with entities that win — or for reasons of simple routine and ritual — Veni, vidi, vici — then you will be indifferent to the manner in which we achieve results. The utility you gain from the game is determined only by the end result.
If you know why you watch this primitive and contradictory game, then you will better understand why you react the way you do to Juventus’ current predicament.
To paraphrase the aforementioned quote from Eduardo Galeano, tell me why you watch and I will tell you who you are.
“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women. Suddenly, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain it would bring.”
— Nick Hornby
A Emotionally Cold Night in Madrid
This leads me nicely to my next segment.
Even though I do my best to keep a healthy emotional distance between myself and football, that night in Spain — no, not that one — was so, so, so emotionally crushing. Just to be clear, I wasn’t angry. No, the only emotion I could muster was sadness. Why? Because I’ve become too emotionally dependent on football.
A jarring loss like the one we suffered against Diego Simeone’s very, ehm, masculine men not only felt like a loss for the team, but also a loss for me as a person. And because football is the ultimate form of escapism for so many of us, suffering losses in the game means that there are few places left for me to hide. But what is often our instinctive reaction when faced with such heartbreak? Simple. We say that we never really cared in the first place.
We say this to protect ourselves from potential future pain even though, in my case, it would be a lie of epic proportions. A lie conjured to quiet the cognitive dissonance from such a disappointing loss.
“I don’t hear a sound,
Silent faces in the ground.
Quiet screams, but I refuse to listen.”
I will admit, though, that after the Atléti game I did ask myself some questions. “Maybe I should stop caring so damn much. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so stupidly upset by what is, at the end of the day, still just a freakin’ game. I should just protect myself from this internal turmoil.” Let’s not kid ourselves, though; you and I both know that I could never do this. Why? Because I’m irrationally married to this game we call football.
But who knows, maybe my melodramatic monologue is premature. Maybe the (predictable and) chaotic irrationality of the game will result in a monumental comeback on March 12 in the Allianz Stadium.
But in the meantime, I’ll brace myself for the worst and figure out what to do with this crazy relationship I have with The Old Lady and, more importantly, the paradoxical relationship I have with the game of football.
“[Football is] a religion in search of a God.”
— Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Incredibly, the Bianconere still haven’t conceded a goal in the year 2019!
February was another fantastic month for the team as they won 1-0 at home against Roma, tied 0-0 away at Atalanta, coasted past Tavagnacco 2-0 to progress to the semi-final of the Coppa Italia, and, most importantly, beat title contenders AC Milan 2-0 in a crucial top-of-the-table clash thanks to a Barbara Bonansea double. That win allowed Juventus to leapfrog Milan and secure first place in the Serie A table as the season reaches its climax.
One thing is for sure, if Rita Guarino’s team ends up winning the title, it will surely be down to its impeccable defense!