But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near
—Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” 1681
Three-hundred-and-forty-one years ago, Mr. Marvell wrote a poem trying to persuade his lady friend to get a move on the more amorous components of a relationship, and, partially because the protagonist of my favorite Hemingway novel, A Farewell To Arms, quotes this line as he’s about to return to the front during World War I, this is always the phrase that comes to my mind whenever some sense of doom pervades the atmosphere, impending and inevitable.
Right now, that doom is Juventus kicking off their campaign in under three weeks. Cristiano Giuntoli has stepped into a devastatingly difficult situation, and yet very little has been done to a roster still in need of deep fixing. The midfield has not been reinforced; players thought once not to be a part of the project remain on the squad; the fullback/wingback situation is the same — essentially, almost nothing has changed, even as the transfer window is coming to a close.
Considering everything transpiring off the field, a top-four finish feels imperative. Does this roster, with this coach, in this set of circumstances, against this competition, have enough to make that happen?
The fact that this is even a valid question shows how far Juventus have fallen in a very short period of time.
Remember the good old days?
Juventus are not terribly far removed from competing in Champions League finals, and even though in both instances the Old Lady was certainly classified as an underdog, those were years during which the Bianconeri were firmly fixed into the upper echelon of European football. Nowadays? Not so much.
In England, Manchester City are king; Arsenal, a team Juventus fans used to regularly mock, are not terribly far behind them. A bitter pill. And although some other traditionally powerful Premier League clubs have faltered, the financial disparities are so wide that imagining a one-year turnaround for a club like Chelsea is not out of the question. In Germany, there’s Bayern. In Spain, there’s Real Madrid and Barcelona. In France, there’s Paris Saint-Germain.
Juventus do not belong in the conversation with these teams. That’s the reality.
In Italy, Juventus were not anywhere near a title threat, although without the points deduction Max Allegri’s side would’ve secured a top-four finish. But to be so far away from title contention in Serie A, to watch Inter and Milan battle it out in the Champions League semifinals, to not even reach the final of the Coppa Italia on top of everything else — this was a reality far removed from nine consecutive titles. And the poor performance might not be half as bad as facing the reality that there’s very little hope for things to get much better in the immediate future. Allegri flatly stated that “talking about the Scudetto now makes no sense.”
Why, nonetheless, I am stupidly excited for this season
There is another quality in “To His Coy Mistress,” though. On the surface the speaker is attempting to get a little more love from his lover, but the deeper thread here — the threat of mortality, the threat of time personified in a vaguely threatening “chariot” on its way — is the implied encouragement to live presently.
None of us knows how many seasons of fandom we have left to follow this Old Lady. As we watch the Biaconeri flounder into a new campaign, you can pick your poison in terms of what upsets you most. The financial state is a wreck, the stature of the club has fallen and is actively falling — indeed, to call it a “freefall” might not be hyperbolic — the coach of the club has seemed out of ideas in a rapidly changing game, the roster is disjointed, there seems to be very little general direction, and on and on and on. Juventus have fallen behind in Italy; Italy has fallen behind in Europe; Europe is losing ground and players to Saudi Arabia.
These days, being a Manchester City fan is easy. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. Even, again, Chelsea, because you know your team has a viable path forward. True love, true loyalty, is only proved under the most difficult of circumstances — “Courage,” Hemingway said, “is grace under pressure,” and maybe the same is true for love — and my goodness is this a difficult set for the Juventino when compared to the club’s history. The present is a skein of complicated problems on and off the field; the future is perilous.
Fino alla fine rings different this year. During the stretch of nine titles, fino alla fine was the war cry of an inevitably indomitable invading force on the peninsula. The Bianconeri were the domestic version of Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces come down through the Alps to terrorize the Romans. At home, nobody could stand up to the Biaconeri. Battling elsewhere in Europe, there was a palpable pride in the “dark horse” moniker.
If ever the word “fan” were put to the test for a follower of Juventus, that time is now. I honestly can’t wait for the season to begin, for my excitement seems to be correlated to the exact opposite direction of the club.