We’re a month early, but the 2018-2019 season is effectively over for Juventus. Although the unprecedented eighth consecutive Scudetto victory was a source of incredible joy for Juventini, the painful Champions League exit to Ajax Amsterdam at the quarterfinal stage left most of us jaded and fed up with the umpteenth failure in European competition.
Well, let’s review the month of April.
April started in controversial fashion. Goals from Leonardo Bonucci and Moise Kean (again!) secured a hard-fought 2-0 victory away to Cagliari, but it was unfortunately accompanied by a terrible instance of racist chanting targeted at Kean. This was made much worse by the subsequent controversial reactions to the incident — which I wrote about here — and the accompanying media fallout.
There was little time for the dust to settle from this controversy, though, because a home game against Milan was on the agenda just four days after the Cagliari match. Unfortunately, the game started in the worst possible fashion: Polish superstar and Serie A revelation Krzysztof Piątek opened the scoring after capitalizing on an errant Bonucci pass and slotting home past fellow Pole Wojciech Szczesny in goal.
Thankfully, Paulo Dybala equalized from the penalty spot after being fouled by Mateo Musacchio before Moise Kean (yet again!) scored the winner after a lovely through ball from Miralem Pjanic: 2-1. In between the two Champions League games against Ajax (more on that later), Allegri put out a B-team in the 2-1 away loss to SPAL after which came the title-clinching 2-1 victory against Fiorentina.
Although we were completely outplayed (not the first time this season that I’ve written those words...) by a Federico Chiesa-inspired Fiorentina — and were deservedly 1-0 done for much of the first half — a brilliant Alex Sandro header and a Germán Pezzella own goal secured the victory for Juventus and officially sealed an unprecedented 8th consecutive Serie A title!
To wrap up the month, Allegri’s men faced Inter in the Derby D’Italia and even though the title was already wrapped up, it was still a highly competitive game. Inter fully dominated the first half and deservedly went ahead through a Radja Nainggolan volley, though Juve equalized after a clever interchange between Miralem Pjanic (what a backheel!) and Cristiano Ronaldo resulted in the latter scoring his 600th club goal in his entire career.
That was what stood between Juventus Women and their second ever — and consecutive — Scudetto victory: Tavagnacco at home and Hellas Verona away. Rita Guarino’s never succumbed to the nerves though and certainly never let the pressure get to them.
The first game was a breeze as Juventus strolled to an easy 5-0 victory. Goals from Eniola Aluko (2), Aurora Galli (1), and Cristiana Girelli (2) condemned visitors Tavagnacco to a comprehensive defeat. Though not quite as easy, the second game — the title clincher away to Hellas Verona — was just as convincing. Goals from Petronella Ekroth, Girelli, and Aluko allowed Rita Guarino to pop out the champagne bottles and celebrate not only a wonderful 3-0 victory, but also a second consecutive Scudetto title!
There was also the small issue of a Coppa Italia semifinal second leg and final to deal with, though. Juventus went into the second leg boasting a 2-1 away against Milan and, after a tight encounter in Turin, progressed to the final of the competition thanks to a hard-fought 1-1 draw. Fiorentina awaited the Bianconere in the final.
That game ended the same way so many games have ended for Guarino’s side — in victory. A header from Ekroth and a cracking strike from Valentina Cernoia put Juventus 2-0 up, though the team had to hang on for dear life in the final 15 minutes after Fiorentina halved the deficit through Tatiana Bonetti. The final score was 2-1 and Juventus wrapped up an absolutely stellar season with a Scudetto and Coppa Italia double.
On to next year!
The King of Sorrow
I did quite some soul-searching after the painful Champions League exit at the hands of Europe’s new darlings, Ajax. As many of you know, I grew up only 45 minutes (drive) from Ajax and lived in that region of Holland for roughly 20 years of my life.
In fact, when I was a student, I had a part-time job where a few times a month I worked at the VIP booth at Ajax’s stadium. I still have a lot of friends that live there (or close by), so emotionally speaking, Holland is essentially home to me. Still though, my heart and loyalty are unquestionably with Juventus.
As a result, this loss hit me really, really hard.
It baffles me that I — a grown-ass man with a good job, great physical and financial health, and a blessed life in general — have to rely on a game in which 22 players kick a ball around for 90 minutes to fill some kind of existential emotional void in his life.
When I came to this realization after the Ajax game, I was appalled with myself. How on earth is this possible? How is it that football is the one thing I invest so much emotional energy in knowing that, no matter what, it could never fill whatever inexplicable emotional void I’m looking to fill?
“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
I realized that the reason that I take these kinds of losses so much more to heart is because they don’t feel like a defeat to the team I support. No, they feel like a defeat of me as a person. Hence, the higher the stakes of the game, the worse the potential (or, in this case, actual) loss will feel to me.
“I think football is the opposite of technology precisely because of its exaggeratedly human condition: contradictory, primitive, emotional.”
— Jorge Valdano
There were, of course, the usual consolations after the game:
“There’s always next year. Adversity builds character. Victory will be much sweeter after such a loss.”
And all the other lies I was supposed to tell myself in order to rationalize this heart-wrenching loss. But, honestly, I’ve reached a bit of an emotional breaking point. Berlin, Bayern München, Cardiff, Real Madrid last year, and now this. One thing is for sure: When we lose in the Champions League, we sure find a way to turn it into emotional fireworks. But this stuff really eats at me and like I said before, such losses feel like defeats to me as a person.
“I am, the architect of my own destruction.”
For the sake of my emotional health then, I should probably cool down a little with respect to how much emotional energy I put into the game. Though I’m sure I’m not the only one that puts so much emotional energy into football because of some emotional deficiency in other areas of life, perhaps it would be wise to step back a little.
“[Football is] a religion in search of a God.”
— Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
But who am I kidding? I know I can’t do that. Football is simply too much a part of me and my life, no matter how much I try to deceive myself that it’s not. So as much as I whine and throw emotional tantrums after gut-wrenching losses like these, this King of Sorrow will be probably be back again, begging for that emotional fulfillment that he desperately yearns for.
“I suppose I could just walk away,
Will I disappoint my future if I stay?”
See you, old friend
And just like that, an old friend says goodbye. After eight stellar seasons in Juventus colors, Andrea Barzagli has called it a day. At the ripe old age of 37 (turning 38 in May), Barzagli announced that he will officially retire at the end of the current season.
I realize that there’s little I can say that will do justice in honoring one of Juventus and Italy’s greatest defenders in recent history. He epitomized the indomitable Juventus of the last eight seasons and symbolized what was once the best defense in Europe. What most Juventini, including myself, especially liked about him was that even though he didn’t have the ruthless physicality of Chiellini or the elegant, pinpoint ball-playing skills of Bonucci, he had the superhuman foresight of knowing exactly where to be before a situation ever became dangerous.
Barzagli embodied Paolo Maldini’s quote of “If I have to make a tackle, I’ve already made a mistake” because he almost never had to make a tackle. He was always at the right place at the right time, exterminating the threat before it ever had the time to spark into danger. Barzagli was always the coolest and smoothest
operator defender who never needed fanfare or extravaganza to do his job.
He has more than earned a comfortable retirement.
Goodbye old friend.
“Maybe when the end of your career becomes more and more of a reality … you start thinking about the beginning.”