Is the Old Lady about to return to her glory days?

It has been a difficult five years for Juventus FC. The Old Lady of Turin have been haunted by the mistakes of the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 – a period where the club has been without a major trophy while Milan and Inter have conquered Europe and held a grip on the Scudetto. Relegated to Serie B – for many the punishment, perceived as harsh, indicated a change Italian football unlike anything seen before as the domestic games most successful side played their first ever season outside the premier division.
However, like any true champion, after being knocked down the Turin based club made a swift return to the top flight thanks largely to the continuing presence of many loyal stars like Pavel Nedved , Gianluigi Buffon and David Trezeguet.
It seemed that the Bianconeri were straight back in business after finishing third in their first season back in the Serie A. This was then bettered the following year ending up as runners up. Even in the Champions League the club seemed back amongst the best, as they achieved a commendable double over Spanish giants Real Madrid in the Champions League in 2008.
However, this early rise proved to be a false dawn. Juventus have slipped in the last two seasons, with consecutive finishes in seventh position – some way from the grand expectations of the club.
The reasons for this stagnation have been attributed firstly to the club’s inability to find the right coach. Claudio Ranieri, Alberto Zaccheroni, Ciro Ferrara and Luigi Del Neri have all been tried and tested but ultimately deemed to have failed. There is also the issue of the clubs activity in the transfer market as the players brought in – often at some cost – have struggled to make the impact that has been desired. This is in stark contrast to the clubs ability pre-Calciopoli to excel in this area above all other competitors in Italy.
Despite attempts on returning to spend in order to compete, their relative financial strength has deteriorated over the same period. Not a unique occurrence amongst Italian clubs, however with Juventus it has been most acute. In 2006, the club ranked fourth on Deloitte’s Money League report. Only Real Madrid, Manchester United and Milan ranked higher. In the same report this year, the club deemed the ‘girlfriend of Italy’ ranked tenth and the prediction is that next year the club will rank outside the top ten altogether with the rise of English clubs Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur to consider.
The previous two seasons have been dismal for a club so desperate to regain its place on the top of Italian football and, after two rounds played, Juve have recorded two well-deserved victories that have seen them become joint league leaders. The new promise has been enhanced by the performances to match the results as they have outplayed their opposition on both occasions, while scoring five goals provided by five different players. It is encouraging that early signs suggest the club finally has got it right in terms of picking the right manager and signing the right players.
Prior to the start of the season doubts surrounded Antonio Conte’s aptitude to make his adventurous 4-4-2 cum 4-2-4 system work, especially with the defensively limited Andrea Pirlo playing in one of the central roles. However, on the evidence of their two wins against Parma and Siena, Conte’s system seems to be working just as intended. His side have dominated possession, created chances and limited the chances for the opposition to score. The more stern tests remain ahead and these will define the progress Conte can make in his first season at his beloved club.
The new arrivals such as Arturo Vidal, Stephen Liechtensteiner and Mirko Vucinic have all showed signs of promise. It is Pirlo however, the summers most intriguing signing, who has exhibited glimpses of his former self and already has seemingly established himself as the fulcrum of this new Juventus outfit.
Coupled with the renewed optimism on the pitch the unveiling of the Juventus Arena – the clubs’ brand new and fully owned home ground – has served to provide a new feeling of confidence to the club. This was displayed in their opening match day against Parma in front of an enthusiastic and – in a rare occurrence for Juventus in recent seasons – a full capacity home crowd.
Despite traditional popularity in Italian football, home attendances have been consistently disappointing in the past decade. Even in the 2005-06 season, when Juventus won the Scudetto (that was later revoked) with a star-studded squad, match day revenue was the worst of the top 20 clubs in the Money League report of 2006. Even rivals Fiorentina, a club that finished ninth that season, had a higher average home attendance. The new stadium is set to change this as they become the only club in the top flight who owns their own stadium. It is not only the feel good factor that will improve outcomes in results now – revenue created gives the Bianconeri an opportunity to overtake their domestic rivals commercially giving them the financial muscle to surpass them on the pitch.
In a period of drought for the trophy starved giants it appears that finally the star is beginning to rise again for the Old Lady of Italian football, both on and off the pitch. It has not been the first time since Juve’s return to the top flight that a positive start has triggered talk of the club’s return and sterner tasks on the remain ahead this season however the unmistakable feeling is that the club is on a path to success that will endure long into the future.

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