Football

The renascence of Juventus

The good times are back at Juventus. (©GettyImages)
The good times are back at Juventus. (©GettyImages).

As the dust settled on Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph, the match-fixing scandal that shook Italian football to the core left Juventus in turmoil.

For the first time in their 107-year history, the darlings of the peninsula were relegated to Serie B, stripped of two championship titles and abandoned by the majority of their stellar squad.

An unconvincing four years under the management of Didier Deschamps, Claudio Ranieri and Gigi Del Neri followed, as bitter rivals Inter and AC Milan dominated, both domestically and in Europe.

The emergence of Napoli, Udinese and Lazio even left Juventus in the altogether unfamiliar position of mid-table.

But, five long years on, they finally appear to have shaken off their Calciopoli shackles and look ready to retake their rightful place among Europe's elite.

After a seventh-place finish last term, the newly-appointed Antonio Conte and his side had begun this season with the primary objective of securing a place in the top three - ensuring a return to the Champions League.

Few foresaw them challenging Milan and Inter for the Scudetto but, with eight games remaining, Juve are hot on the heels of the Rossoneri after impressive back-to-back home wins over Inter and Napoli.

They are just two points behind the leaders, remain the only team in Europe with an unbeaten league record, and have a Coppa Italia final on their horizon to boot.

Conte, who was part of Juve's glory years during the 1990s, has breathed new life into the club that he served so well as a player.

The former Italian international has built a team that doesn't rely on individuals and understands the way their manager wants them to play.

He demands a high intensity from his players both with and without the ball - much like the way Barcelona press and harass their opponents in possession - and accepts nothing less than full commitment to his system.

A system that is obviously working. Juve also have the best defensive record in Europe - conceding just 17 league goals this season.

Those unwilling to conform, like the highly-rated Milos Krasic, have been cut adrift from the rest of the squad.

The core of the side - Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio - is Italian and, typically, provides a solid foundation that is rarely flustered.

The signing of Pirlo - disregarded by Milan - has been a masterstroke. At 32, the former Champions League and World Cup winner is the cog that makes Conte's team tick.

The manager has even adapted his preferred 4-2-4 formation to accommodate Pirlo, who now plays alongside Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in the midfield of a 4-3-3.

Conte also encourages his players to get the ball down and play, which has resulted in an exciting brand of football to rival that of Serie A entertainers Udinese and Napoli.

This balance of discipline and adventure has led to remarkable success on the pitch.

Off it, 36-year-old president Andrea Agnelli, son of former owner, Umberto, has made a number of astute decisions that illustrate the club's positive progression.

He has appointed sporting director Giuseppe Marotta, who masterminded the summer signings of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Pirlo and Vidal - all of whom have made a considerable impact since joining.

Juventus legend and former Ballon d'Or winner Pavel Nedved has become a director and, alongside Conte and Agnelli, joins a hierarchy that have the history of the club coursing through their veins.

Agnelli has also overseen the long overdue building of a new stadium.

After more than a decade in the decrepit Stadio Delli Alpi and two seasons at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin, the Bianconeri finally have a place they can call home.

'The Juventus Stadium' is generations ahead of anything seen before in Italy. Ever the innovators, Juventus are the first to follow the benchmark set by stadia in England and Germany.

They are the only club in Serie A that own their stadium - reaping the financial benefits that come with ticket sales and corporate facilities that we have become so accustom to in England.

An intimate capacity of 40,000, steep terraces and standing areas have given the stadium a unique aura.

It is made for the glorious nights in the Champions League that Nedved and Conte provided so regularly during their playing days.

After the bleakest chapter in their illustrious history, the good times are most definitely back at Juventus - and they look as if they are here to stay.

Topics:
European News
Football
UEFA Champions League

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