This is not a new story.
The rhetoric Juventus fans are hearing after the collapse of the Old Lady in the Champions League, blanked 2-0 by Maccabi Haifa, is the stuff of old. The incremental collapse of a European legend is the stuff of Peleus’ son. The stuff of anger, resentment, jealousies.
This is a story of the pride of men.
“This is a difficult night in a difficult period,” Juve president Andrea Agnelli said after Tuesday night’s debacle in Israel. “It is one of the most difficult periods and the moment to take responsibility, which is why I am here. I feel ashamed for what is happening, I am angry, but I also know that football is played with 11 men, you lose and win with 11.”
There is very little here of substance. There is, instead, the words of a man in charge who realizes he has made a grave error, but who does not want to cede the embarrassment of that mistake to the public. After hiring and quickly firing Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo, both of whom performed better than Massimiliano Allegri’s two iterations of Juventus in his return to the club, Agnelli cannot, despite his words, bring himself to bear the responsibility of what is happening.
Agnelli is Homer’s Agamemnon, ruling from his tent, pitched far away from battle, refusing to admit error, doing little to nothing to change course despite what transpires in the trenches.
Juventus have not moved on from Allegri because Agnelli is a prideful man, a man who does not want to be embarrassed; in the long history of humankind, in fiction and in reality, wars are waged and lost for the same reasons, epics are written, yet the lessons go unlearned.
If we are truly strung somewhere in the narrative of dealing with the Agamemnon-Achilles fallout, we might not yet be in the worst of it. In Book IX of the Iliad, after the Greeks have returned to camp unsuccessful in their forays, Agamemnon attempts to pacify Achilles by sending what amounts to a gift basket.
Needless to say, the attempt does not work.
In the Juventus story, the losses feel about equivalent to what the Greeks were dealing with at that point. Heavy losses, sober reports, talks of abdication. The action, too, is perhaps similar. The gifts sent by Agamemnon to Achilles not only failed to bring the warrior back to the front, but, according to Odysseus, who helped hand-deliver the goods to Achilles, they angered him more. Platitudes and rote gestures are worse than nothing; this is something fans feel acutely, but which executives and coaches seem incapable of understanding.
The explicit discourse to this point has been that Juventus and Allegri are part of a “project” together, and that it’s going to take time — this is why no action has been taken with Allegri. The tacit discourse has been that Juventus cannot afford to fire Allegri, pay off his remaining buyout, and then hire another big-name replacement. I don’t believe the first for a second, or the second for two seconds. If push came to shove, the club could find the money, find some way forward without Allegri.
But rather than action there is only that — discourse. Only words ringing more hollow each week: shame, anger, responsibility, spirit.
There is an even more sobering fact, the difference between the Bianconeri and Achaeans: if Agnelli is cast into the role of Agamemnon, there is no hero to wait for like Achilles, no single character who will undoubtedly change the course of things. As good as Federico Chiesa and Paul Pogba are when fit and in form, neither individually nor together are they good enough to suddenly transform this team into the force it was just a few seasons ago.
In the story of Juventus and Agnelli, the cost of hubris is much lower than that in war. The lives of ordinary people, especially the young, conscripted into arms for the sake of heads of state makes paltry the consequences of footballing executives. For Juventus fans, however, this does not bring a great amount of solace; the longer Agnelli delays in attempting to rectify what is beyond obviously broken, the deeper the reconstruction process will be.
From my perspective, that word “attempt” is key.
Firing Allegri may not, in fact, turn the campaign around. Maybe the move would make things worse. Maybe we learn after all that the roster or more pervasive structural changes is what the club needs. But to do nothing, to attempt nothing — this is cowardice, this is pride, this is an insult to the fans. Agnelli claims to feel “ashamed” and “angry,” claims to be taking “responsibility,” but in the same breath he shifts the burden of guilt to the players, not even mentioning Allegri by name except to exonerate him. At this moment, Agnelli is a man of hubris, and his hubris is bringing the club to the brink.
When I read the Iliad, I see no resolution but bodies. With each passing week I try to find some new shred of hope to grasp with Juventus, but each week the new thread slips between my fingers. There may be very little but a memory of greatness soon.