Netflix has a docuseries out called “Sunderland ‘Til I Die.” In its two seasons, they follow the historic Sunderland AFC, a club that has gone from the Premier League to the third division of English football within the span of a couple of years.
I highly encourage you to watch it if you haven’t. Unlike other football-centric shows that tend to focus on big, successful clubs such as Manchester City, Barcelona and, well … Juventus. “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” focuses on a team that is thoroughly down on its luck all throughout its first season, losing game after game, only to be relegated from the Premier League to the EFL Championship and then into League One.
It’s riveting TV and I won’t say much more in case someone hasn’t seen it. However, there is moment in the second season that I want to talk about. Sunderland had just lost a brutal game, one of those games that leaves you numb, exhausted and depressed and wondering why do you even follow football at all. As fans leave the stadium, a couple of Sunderland supporters that have been featured sporadically throughout the documentary have a chocked up exchange:
“Why is it never us celebrating? Why is it never us?”
The documentary keeps pouring it on. As team president Stewart Donald leaves the stadium, he is approached by a fan that shakes his hand and puts into words what so many football crazed fans have probably felt once or twice in their life:
“Are we ever going to be good, mate? Are we ever going to be good? This is the eighth time we’ve lost here, I’m fucking heartbroken. I feel like crying in front of you. Are we going to get there?”
That’s the defeated tone of a fan that knows the answer to the question but is probably not ready to hear the answer out loud.
Juventus is hardly in the same boat as a club like Sunderland. In fact, it’s not in the same boat as the large majority of clubs in world football. Juventus is a top-tier, 1% type of football club. They are the most successful club in Italy by almost any possible metric — most league titles, most domestic cups, highest worth, highest payroll. Pretty much anything you can think of when it comes to Italian football Juventus is at the top.
But there is one thing Juventus cannot win, one thing where Juventus has consistently failed time and time again — especially lately — that despite the constant and historic levels of domestic domination they cannot seem to ever get there. The one tournament that made it so easy for me to relate to those heartbroken Sunderland fans.
Being a Juventus fan always come with the caveat of not being able to win a Champions League trophy. And look, if you are a fan of one of the thousands of clubs who would be happy to have half of the success Juventus has I know this is not going to gain your sympathy. Juve fans complaining about not being able to win the Champions League is like the New York Yankees complaining it’s been too long since they won a World Series. Nobody really feels sorry for them.
Rooting for this club brings in a bit of a duality that is hard to describe — especially the last 10 years that have seen the Bianconeri go on an unprecedented streak of success domestically. Hell, if you only took into account the Scudetti Juventus has won this past decade, they would be the fourth-winningest club in Serie A history.
Every season during this run, the expectation is to win, and as the Juventus machine has grown stronger and stronger that belief that we must be the almighty ruler in Italy has only compounded. Now we not only want to win, but we want to win in style, we want to win playing good football, we want to win running away with it and if we can make it a domestic double? Even better.
We are loud and confident and cocky in our knowledge that we are the best club in the country, every young Italian should want to play for us and every player that is signed should be honored to don the black and white.
Yet, something happens once we are forced to watch our almighty club on the European stage. Sheer and utter terror, all the confidence is gone. We, as fans, go in hoping for the best but thoroughly prepared for the worst, almost expecting it at some point.
And could you blame us? What club has been more snakebitten than Juventus under the Champions League lights?
Rooting for Juventus means to be both the favorite and the underdog. It means feeling invincible while still holding a decidedly insecure streak. What else would you expect from a team with the most losses in Champions League finals ever?
Most of the time I enjoy being a Juventus fan. I enjoy the trophies, the accolades the multimillion transfers. But I would be lying if I didn’t empathize with the poor Sunderland fans, chocked up, trying to imagine the day that the breaks will go their way and wondering, “Are we going to get there?”
I sure hope we will. Someday.