It’s been nearly a week since Juventus saw its Champions League campaign come to an end at the hands of Ajax’s young, talented and incredibly cohesive unit that has gained the “giant slayer” tag the last couple of months. For many, that wound is still fresh, with this past weekend’s Scudetto-clinching win over Fiorentina not nearly the tonic needed to cleanse the pallet of such a disappointing development in Europe a few days earlier.
Adding salt to the wound was the fact that Juventus, by way of transfer activity last summer and interviews with players and coaches since then, made it well known that they were aiming for Champions League glory this season. It was supposed to be different — led by the fact that the club shelled out nine figures to bring in the Champions League’s best-ever goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet, as we see Easter Sunday come and go, Juventus, Ronaldo and everybody else in bianconero won’t be taking part in the Champions League the rest of this season.
Instead, as when the Champions League semifinals kick off later this month, Juventus won’t be one of the four teams vying for the two precious spots in the final in Madrid come the first weekend of June.
That begs the rather simple question: Knowing how much concentration was put on Europe during the summer months, is this season to be considered a relative failure after being eliminated in the Champions League quarterfinals?
The BWRAO roundtable has assembled.
And here are their thoughts on the matter.
In a vacuum, it’s hard to say a team’s season is a failure if they don’t win the Champions League because that would imply that every team’s season outside of the eventual winner’s season is a failure and I don’t think that’s true.
But this is not about a vacuum. This season is a failure for Juventus because of two reasons. As the main question implies, everything from the statements from the board, to the players, to the signings signaled a clear intent to make lifting the Big Ears trophy a priority. You could see it even in the formations, with huge switches on games before Champions League games, something that Max Allegri was criticized for not doing in previous years. When you bet your entire season on the obtention of one trophy and then fail to win the aforementioned trophy, it’s by definition a failure.
The second reason, and probably the most significant, is how they got bounced. Take for example the Tottenham-Manchester City tie. Sure, CIty got bounced and in heart-wrenching fashion, but that was a loss decided by a razor-thin margin. You can easily make the case that, on a better day, City goes through and deservedly so. With Juventus, there is no scenario in which they were the better squad than Ajax. Instagram followers, revenues projections, shirt sales, being on the goddamn cover of FIFA — that’s all well and good and I’m sure the Juve marketing department loved the season.
But, at the end of the day, even with all the signings and all the names and you still get this badly outplayed by a young upstart like the Dutch team, you have to ask the question.
Where is this project even going? Truth is, I don’t know.
Yes, definitely a relative failure, but to most of us not a surprise, either.
All season long this team has looked like a hodge-podge of players and tactics, all being held together by Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals and individual bursts of skill from the supporting cast of players. However, there has not been a (visible) coherent strategy from Massimiliano Allegri on how he wants this team to play, and there have also been too many disappointing performance from a number of players who have shown that they are not ready for the limelight that comes with being a European contender.
The second half of the second leg against Ajax perfectly encapsulated for many supporters who we really are versus who we want to be. The visitors were tight and compact in defence, but broke out consistently with vertical passes stretching the Juve defence, with fluid movement creating overlaps and taking advantage of spaces, creating chance after chance and coming out as deserved winners. That is how many of us want to see Juve play, not this grinding, plodding, creaking machine that we have turned into.
As an Allegri apologist, I want to believe that he is capable of having us play in that style, but is only playing the hand that he has been dealt right now, which has led to this abominable team that plays like they are a decade older than they really are. The onus this offseason is on the Board to go out and get the manager the right weapons in the right spots, starting with the defence where the weaknesses have shown themselves quite glaringly this season. If Andrea Agnelli truly means what he says about Juve continuing to be an influential side at the higher echelons of the game, then he will have to show that in the summer mercato, or else it’s all lip service and we’re in for another dreary season like this one next year.
Big Poppa Chuks
Simple question, simple answer: Absolutely yes, this season was a failure.
Juve had Valencia to thank for only narrowly coming first in their Champions League group and we played our best match of the season in a second-leg comeback against Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16. Honestly, the only standout games in the Champions League for me this year were the first half against Manchester United (1-0 victory), the battling 2-0 win at Valencia (although that was more of a grinta/emotional victory, and the circumstances were unusual), and the aforementioned Atletico comeback. For the rest, the Champions League could be summed up by saying that we usually did only just enough to suffice, until just enough was nowhere near enough. Granted, I’m more concerned with match control than attacking flair in matches. I don’t ask for Juve to pepper the opposition goal with hundreds of shots ala Barcelona or Ajax. But, I do ask for Juve to control matches such that there is no question of who is boss — the team in black and white. This is a feeling that I rarely got from Juve this season in the Champions League. Alas...
So all this leaves me in an extremely jaded position. The Cardiff final was supposed to be “our year,” the year we were in best shape to win the darn Champions League trophy, and that dream left us as quickly as it entered our imaginations. Now, a few years later, I’m not sure how much progress we’ve made with respect to the Champions League.
You guys remember when we had the MVPP midfield and people said that the only thing the team lacked was a world-class goalscorer (though Carlos Tevez was amazing)? How funny it is to have the reverse situation now — a world-class goalscorer in Cristiano Ronaldo this year and (arguably) in Gonzalo Higuain last year, but a very subpar midfield to accompany it.
Anyway, I’m no longer getting my hopes up. It will be a summer of plenty of speculation about Max Allegri, lots of talk about how we only need Player X, Y, and Z in order to conquer Europe, and likely no lack of disappointment as the nonsensically high transfer fees in today’s market will prevent our transfer dreams from becoming reality. Yes, I’m still unbearably damaged and irritated and disillusioned all of that since the Ajax loss. It’s another failure and perhaps another opportunity for us to creatively rationalize why it’s yet another year of heartbreak.
”It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same.” Emily Kaldwin from the game Dishonored
To me, there is no way to look at this season as anything but a failure. After winning Serie A and Coppa Italia in every season under Max Allegri, and reaching two Champions League Finals, we crashed out of Champions League and Coppa Italia and looked poor doing so. The biggest difference is that this is the first season under Allegri in which we’ve been eliminated by opponents we were expected to beat. In our last four Champions League campaigns we’ve been eliminated by Real Madrid, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona. All upper echelon clubs. We went out this summer and got the most prolific goal scorer in Champions League history in Cristiano Ronaldo. We identified weaknesses at right back and midfield, so we signed Joao Cancelo and Emre Can. These moves were made because we sought that elusive trophy. But instead, we crash out of the tournament with a loss at home to Ajax.
Don’t get me wrong, Ajax were magnificent. They outplayed us in every way and thoroughly deserved victory. This is probably what hurts the most. Not only did we lose, but we looked SO bad doing it. Even up 1-0, I never got the feeling that the match was going our way. This was just one of a string of performances by Juventus this season in which we’ve been thoroughly outplayed by the opposition. The only difference (besides the Atalanta game) is that this time we actually lost. After our comeback against Atletico, we were arguably the favorites to win the tournament. Instead, our season is over two months too early. This team has offered up more questions than answers this season, we never really looked like a team capable of winning it all. For that reason, this season is a loss, even with another Serie A title under our belts.
Only at Juventus could a season ending with an eighth straight Scudetto even be questioned to be a failure. So my simple answer is, no, this season has not been a failure. Not to say this season wasn’t painful to endure at times and overall rather disappointing, because it was. The Champions League has only been a source of disappointment over the last few years and this year was no different. If the team hadn’t hyped up Juve’s chances in Europe then this discussion probably wouldn’t be happening now.
But this discussion is necessary and hopefully, Pavel Nedved and the rest of club higher-ups are having a similar one. The silver lining for Juve’s miserable European campaign is that the club can learn from this and help prepare the team for next season, whether that means a new coach or complete overhaul is up to the guys in suits, not the fans or even the players.
Rather than blaming players, as I’ve seen several people do, I believe the players were maybe the biggest saving grace for this season. Joao Cancelo proved that Juventus found a gem in him, Fede Bernardeschi continued to grow, Leo Spinazzola also proved that he belongs at Juventus. These are just a few examples, and how could I forget about Juve’s golden boy, Moise Kean, undoubtedly the rising the star that shined the brightest for Juventus this season. I guess it was pretty nice to see Ronaldo do his thing in a Juve jersey too.
While this season may have been disappointing and rather anticlimactic, it was by no means a failure. Promising players, an eighth straight Scudetto, a chance to learn from mistakes, and to come back stronger next season. Juventus is still Juventus, and they’ll be back next season, looking to add another star to the badge in just over a year from now.
Is the season a failure? That’s hard to call.
Certainly the disappointment of not going farther is heightened, given the expectations that were heaped upon this team after Cristiano Ronaldo signed. But Ronaldo’s presence masked the fact that the team had some major weaknesses that simply weren’t addressed. In particular the midfield has been lacking at that level for the last two years, and will need to be fixed if Juventus want to move farther than this next year. The word “failure” also suggests the fact that Juve should have rolled over Ajax, which is certainly not the case. They have a bevy of talented players and a very good coach, and play some of the best football of any team in Europe. Losing to them isn’t a shameful thing. What was upsetting — what was truly a failure — was how Juve played in the second leg. Had they gone behind and mounted a furious comeback attempt, going out like giants, that would be a one thing. But the equalizer on Tuesday seemed to have broken them mentally, and they rather meekly ran out the game and met their fate. That isn’t what we’re used to seeing from Juventus. That is where the true failure lies, not necessarily in the result.
It’s also important to put our obsession with the Champions League into perspective. Juventus just set the record for consecutive titles amongst Europe’s Big Five leagues. Ten years from now, we will look back on this run and realize how special it is. Hopefully we’ll have a European title to make it even sweeter, but remember that this team will already go down in history as La grande Juve. However disappointing the wait for the cup with the big ears becomes, we’re already seeing greatness.