After walking more than 20,000 steps at Disney World, after toting my baby boy around in his stroller, after navigating the precarious waters of family reunion dynamics under the watchful, terrifying gaze of Mickey Mouse, exhausted as I was after the second part of a two-a-day football practice when I was in high school, I somehow couldn’t sleep.
I tossed and turned in my bed, thinking about a dumb, simple thing with my simple mind: a good thing is hard to build.
This axiom seems offensively obvious, intuitively true, and historically observed. Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day. Good things take time, they say. This is wisdom built into our stories and aphorisms, into our DNA. A good marriage takes years, decades to build; my wife and I love each other as much as we ever have as we approach our eighth anniversary in January, but the depth and intimacy now after these years, the things we’ve been through, is immeasurably greater. I don’t doubt the same will be true in another decade or three.
Climbing one of the world’s tallest or most challenging peaks — think Denali, Everest, K2 — takes months and months of fitness training, years and years of technical knowledge and accumulation, and scores of smaller peaks beforehand. Even then, unless you’re one of the world’s leading alpinists you’re going to use an immense support network to summit the mountain. Even the actual expedition to reach the summit of any of these mountains is no quick feat. The trek can take weeks and includes time spent simply acclimatizing to the altitude.
What’s more interesting to me, though, is that the inverse seems to be true — if a good thing takes time and effort to build, then a bad thing can happen quite quickly.
If we go back to those metaphors, it’s easy to see how this is the case. A good marriage, built upon decades of trust and intimacy, can be riven by a one-night — indeed, one-moment — affair. A well-wrought, well-planned summit attempt, planned for months or even years, can be defeated by the fickle clouds, by a single mistake from a climber, by a thin crack in the ice.
The really soul-wrenching thing about good things falling apart is how quotidian the reasons can be for the destruction of a thing — negligence, forgetfulness, a bad day leading to a night drinking, distraction, or else a slow drift away from the foundation, or else some combination of factors.
How cruel it is that the trite can dismantle the truly good. I suppose I should talk about Juventus now.
When I couldn’t sleep in Disney World, I wasn’t thinking about Juventus, but the one thing I’ve believed about the club over the last couple of years, maybe the last three seasons or longer, is that there are deep, deep problems that need addressing; there’s blame to go around. I believe Max Allegri should go, but swapping Allegri for Pep Guardiola would do little, in my opinion, to remedy what is going on.
This is the truth about where the Old Lady is right now: it is not a good team. It may not be a strictly bad team, but it is not a good team, and I’m not sure that any in-season changes or injury returns can make this a good team. From my perspective, you can tell a team is a good team if it beats other good teams, and Juventus, for a very long time, haven’t been able to do that. In the Champions League, Juventus have lost or drawn every game against even slightly above-average squads for the last two years minus a fluke 1-0 win over Chelsea. In Serie A, the club has not defeated a respectable domestic opponent since a 4-3 win in January 2022 over a Roma squad that finished sixth in the league. (Does that even count as a win over a quality opponent? I don’t know.)
Juventus may have not fallen apart overnight, and, fortunately, whether it seems like it or not, I don’t believe the club has fallen to absolute shambles (i.e. there are still some good components on which to build a new foundation), but the fall has been breathtakingly fast nonetheless. If this is true for me, a relatively new fan who started watching just six years ago, I can’t imagine how fast it feels for longer-tenured fans.
Quasi-moral pontifications aside, there are not no good things about Juventus, and we saw that even in the woeful performance against Benfica. Samuel Iling-Junior surprised all of us, I’m sure, with his incisive play. Fabio Miretti has been a lovely revelation this year. There is still plenty to hope for with several of the other youth products. Then you have youngsters already stars in their own right with the likes of Federico Chiesa and Dušan Vlahović.
The sad reality is that these good and exciting parts of the club are far outweighed by the negative, the dross weighing Juventus down. The management of the club, from Allegri to Andrea Agnelli, is a farce. The roster has been discombobulated and imbalanced for, literally, years, with no end in sight. The finances are a mess. The results are terrible.
I honestly don’t know what much of this means; it’s me thinking. It’s my own scrambled thoughts. Michel de Montaigne, the inventor of the personal essay (“an attempt”) wrote in his essay “On Solitude,” as a sort of disclaimer to his readers, “These are my own thoughts, by which I am striving to make known not matter but me.” In other words: there’s nothing prescriptive here, and I’m not even sure what I think should be done, let alone what you should think, or what the club should do.
But those are my observations, simple as they are.
The future is probably a matter of the club doing its best to take the good things, leave the bad things, and rebuild. Nobody wants to hear this — fans or shareholders or the club itself. I’m convinced Agnelli thinks Juve’s just a step or two away from returning to prominence, and that belief frightens me. Juventus used to be a team that “reloads,” but the foundation is no longer solid enough to reload. This is not to say that Juventus going into rebuild mode precludes either profits or palpable success on the field, but the overwhelming evidence over the last two seasons suggests that the club is in dire need of a total reimagining.
A good thing is hard to build, and Juventus have yet to start in earnest.