In the wake of Juve’s astonishing second-half collapse in their 4-1 Champions League rout by Real Madrid, Italian football is still scratching its head and trying to pick up the broken pieces. As Juventus lost their second final in two years, not to mention their fifth Champions League final in the last 20 years (Borussia Dortmund in 1997, Real Madrid in 1998, Milan in 2003, Barcelona in 2015 the others), the club, fans and commentators alike struggled to encompass the emphatic nature of their Cardiff defeat.
“We have the impression that the second half in Cardiff will remain amongst the great historical enigmas of Italian football, a bit like Italy-North Korea (1966 World Cup) or Milan v Liverpool (2005 Champions League Final in Athens). It is simply very hard to understand how a side normally as mentally strong as Juventus could could collapse so totally and so suddenly. Especially, if you consider that, until now, they had been the most [defensively] solid team in the tournament,” commented Fabio Licari in Gazzetta Dello Sport
Writing in Rome daily, “La Repubblica”, Gianni Mura summed up the feelings of many Italian and Juventus fans: “Of course, Real were very, very good but no one could have predicted such a fragile Juventus.”
Two years ago, after a much more closely contested defeat to Barcelona, it was club president Andrea Agnelli who sounded the keynote, emphasising what a good season his club had enjoyed. On Saturday night in Cardiff, Agnelli again sounded a positive note, nothwithstanding the emphatic nature of the loss: “I am proud of this season, we should all be proud of it. I judge the arc of a whole season not just the last 30 minutes of a game, which furthermore was a final.”
It was captain Gigi Buffon, bitterly disappointed by the defeat, who perhaps spoke most eloquently for his team-mates, admitting that this time Juventus thought that they would at least match Real Madrid for the entire game. Buffon explained: “This was a great opportunity, a great chance that we had worked hard for and that we had deserved. But we only made the most of it for half an hour…We thought it would be an even contest. We didn’t think we would win but we did think that we would go all the way, 50-50. Instead, the second half leaves us with a sensation of regret and perplexity.”
As Juventus lick their painful wounds, a number of questions obviously ask themselves. Has the infamous BBC defence of Bonucci-Barzagli-Chiellini reached the end of the road? Barzagli is now 37, Chiellini will be 33 in August whilst 30-year-old Bonucci is a player who has long attracted the attention of coaches such Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid.
Do Juventus need to go looking for midfield re-inforcements in the shape of proven international performers such as Serb Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) or Argentinian Angel De Maria (PSG)? Should they bring in some fresh fire-power up front in the persons of Lazio’s Senegalese striker Keita or Real’s underused Colombian talent, James Rodriguez? Is there a question mark – and this is the real heresy – about even goalkeeper Buffon, who, for once, failed to save the day in Cardiff?
What is the future of coach Massimiliano Allegri? Prior to the final, he indicated that he did not feel his time at Juventus was finished. After that painful defeat, he may feel ever more convinced that he has still go a huge job to do and a major point to prove?
Media reports claim that, after his record breaking domestic season, Allegri is ready to negotiate a new contract which would see his annual salary increase from its current €5.5 million to approx. €7-8 million. From coach Allegri to president Agnelli to managing director Beppe Marotta, the “vibe” from Turin would seem to be one of “back on our feet and let us make this a better team”. Remains to be seen.
Finally, concluding a miserable weekend for the Old Lady, was the fact that nearly 1500 people picked up mainly minor injuries after a bomb scare/hoax/ill-conceived prank prompted a stampede among thousands gathered in central Turin to watch the final on the big screen. Whilst one seven year old child was seriously injured, police authorities can probably feel relieved that no one was killed in the incident, clearly sparked by “terrorist” psychosis.