In retrospect, the thought that Cristiano Ronaldo signaled less the beginning of something new and more the end of something old seems predictable, but in those first few months of the Portuguese star’s arrival there was so much ambition surrounding Juventus. Nobody had any illusions about the midfield, everybody was aware of the slowly winding-down careers of a few Bianconeri legends, but the feeling that Ronaldo would cinch everything together no matter what the specific issues to the various components was prevalent — even for the most skeptical of us.
Needless to say, perhaps the only revolution the club has undergone in these three years with No. 7’s thunderous goals has been a social media revolution, and probably an extended commercial reach across the globe. But there has been no great and auspicious new chapter to the club’s history, aside from writing down in the history books that Cristiano Ronaldo played a few years in Turin.
Instead, a chapter is closing for Italy’s most dominant club. Where we thought there may be new things written there are, instead, the sad tales of punctuated, truncated goals. Gianluigi Buffon has retired from Juventus and played with PSG, and now he might be moving again. Giorgio Chiellini is 36 and must be tired of playing injury-riddled football. Paulo Dybala, who carried so much on his shoulders after donning the No. 10 jersey, has been in a protracted tug-of-war with the club about a new contract, and now we are faced with the possibility of seeing La Joya depart to England or Spain this summer. And Cristiano Ronaldo, whether or not he stays another year or longer, is now in a season-to-season rental situation with the club, and even if he does stay in Turin he must do so with the knowledge that this very much is a reforging project; perhaps that idea sounds intriguing to him, but I feel like he’d rather spend the twilight years of his career with real attempts to hoist the Champions League trophy one last time.
The squad itself is in disrepair. There are several individuals who instantly appear talented enough, motivated enough, or promising enough to immediately warrant a spot on this reforging project, but looking at the roster unit-by-unit is not for the faint of heart. In between the goalposts, Wojciech Szczęsny ought to rule once again but with the Buffon news suddenly his backup is in doubt. With Chiellini’s health, Leonardo Bonucci’s form, and Merih Demiral’s happiness, Matthijs de Ligt seems like the only surefire bet for a top center back, and even that might need an asterisk if the club is in a dire enough financial situation to need to cash in with the Dutchman.
The fullback situation isn’t discussed very frequently but is arguably worse than the midfield situation. The team’s best fullback this year has been Juan Cuadrado, who’s 32 years old and isn’t even a fullback. Alex Sandro has struggled with health issues and has looked erratic at best. Gianluca Frabotta has been a whimsical story but is surely destined for a club like Sassuolo or Genoa. Danilo has been one of the true revelations this season and should be a member of the squad again, but he’s had some of his best games as a hybrid center back and even a couple impressive showings as a midfielder.
Which should tell you all you need to know about the midfield situation, which I’m not even going to talk about. It’s bad, very bad.
The attacking cohort is confusing. Dybala is up in the air, Ronaldo is up in the air, Dejan Kulusevski had a disappointing season, and Álvaro Morata bagged plenty of goals in the beginning but tapered off in form. Federico Chiesa might be the single attacker who a fan could feel really damn good about and also be sure he’s returning to the team.
Here is the point of this article: Despite all the not winning going on this year (and the last few years in the Champions League), despite the precarious financial situation in which Juventus find themselves, despite not knowing whether Andrea Pirlo is the right man for the job, despite the fact that, on top of everything, it’s Inter Milan who are probably going to wrest the Scudetto away from Juve, despite the midfield, despite certain players misfiring, and most of all despite the feeling that we’ve climbed all this way just to arrive at Everest Base Camp with the entire foreboding mountain in our foreground — despite all of this, I cannot help but feel a tangible sense of excitement for what’s to come, whether it’s reloading for more trophies a year from now or whether it’s a sustained drought in pursuit of more hardware.
One can be a fan of a team in many, many different ways, each way as real as the last. Even on our lively message board you can see the different ways people love Juventus. There are the surly types, the optimists, the cynics, the doom-loving gloomy folks; at the end of the day, if you tune into kickoff and watch this team win or lose, you’re a fan no matter how you chirp.
But there is precisely one thing to do that makes a fan no longer a fan: depart the bus when the station doesn’t involve trophies. I became a Juve fan in the middle of this bull run; I’m American, I was new to soccer, I’d studied in Turin in college, and in these last few years all I’ve known is Scudetti and fairly impressive Champions League efforts. But I now feel trained and ready to love and follow this club no matter who dons the shirt, even if my favorites leave or if my least-favorites stay.
I see some whispering hopes of Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe — I assure you, neither of these players is coming to Turin. I fear some might not understand how much of a rebuild this is going to be; I know for a fact many are going to scamper off this bus as soon as things go really south (especially if Ronaldo leaves!). That’s fine; it’s natural. But for all of us who remain, there is only the irrational, stupid, wonderful love of Juventus.