Juventus put bitter memory of Calciopoli behind them

Italian giants reclaim place at top table nine years after being demoted to Serie B

Juventus’ Paul Pogba is one of the most sought-after footballers in Europe. Photograh: Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

Juventus’ Paul Pogba is one of the most sought-after footballers in Europe. Photograh: Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

 

In the mixed zone of the gleaming, ultra modern Juventus stadium during last Monday’s ‘media day’, Juventus’ talented French wunderkind, 22-year-old Paul Pogba, was asked if ever regretted walking out on Manchester United three summers ago, at a time when he was little more than a promising reserve.

“For sure, I don’t regret it. I am very happy here and I enjoy it and now I am in a Champions League final. Juventus is a [great] club like Manchester United . . .”

The young Frenchman was not to know it but his answer highlights one of the most significant aspects of tonight’s Champions League final between Juventus and Barcelona. Win or lose at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the Old Lady of Italian football definitively reclaims her place amongst the aristocrats of European and world football as she makes her first reapppearance in the final since losing out to AC Milan in penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford in 2003.

She might not have quite as fat a wallet as some of her peer group but at least she can now claim that she again has the right to sit down to table with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea (currently Deloitte’s football money league has Juventus in 10th place on revenue of €279.4 million, approximately half of the revenues generated by number one club, Real Madrid). As Pogba put it, Juventus is (once again) a great club like Manchester United.

Hell and back

The point, of course, about the “once again” qualifier is that ever since the Calciopoli scandal broke on the eve of the 2006 World Cup won in Germany by Italy, Juventus have been on a return trip to Hell and back.

 

Juve’s major involvement in that scandal in the person of their then sports director, the conspiratorial Luciano Moggi, saw the club relegated to Serie B and stripped of its 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles.

In Turin, Calciopoli is still a very sore point. On match days this season, one of first things that the visitor to the Juventus stadium would see was a huge neon sign suggesting that the real number of league titles won by Juventus was 32, not 30 as officially registered by the Football Federation. Given that in the meantime, Juventus have lifted their fourth consecutive title, those numbers are of course now 33 and 31. Need one add that Juventus are by far the country’s winning most side, with Inter next on 18 titles

At Juventus, they do not like references to Calciopoli as a “match-fixing scandal”, the journalistic shorthand used by many of us over the last decade. Calciopoli, they point out, was about Moggi’s abuse of influence as he rang around, speaking to friendly federation officials and to referees, in the process “appointing” the refs for both Juve’s games and those of their rivals.

“Match-fixing”, as it appears in the “dirty soccer” and “last bet” scandals of more recent Italian times, is arguably much more sinister.

Those two ongoing investigations have unearthed the involvement of organised crime, as well as gambling syndicates from both the Balkans and the Far East in systematic fixing of the results (via bribery of players, mainly in lower league football) for betting purposes.

In any case, just about the first thing that the Old Lady did when Calciopoli broke was to fire Luciano Moggi, who was later given a life-long ban from football by the federation.

That break with Moggi was the first step on a long and winding road back to the top. (Mind you, Moggi has since been partly forgiven by being invited to watch a Juventus game. The folks at Juventus still claim that he was only doing what other big clubs did . . . but he got caught).

Freefall

Immediately after Calciopoli, Juve went into freefall as coach Fabio Capello, Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, French defender Lilian Thuram all abandoned ship.

 

They did not much fancy a Serie B campaign that featured ‘glamour’ fixtures away to such clubs as AlbinoLeffe, Crotone, Mantova and Rimini. However, with stars such as tonight’s goalkeeper captain, Gigi Buffon as well as Frenchman David Trezeguet, Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved and, above all, club idol, Alessandro Del Piero, remaining true to the cause, Juventus wrapped up Serie B with a minimum of difficulty.

Back in Serie A, the rebuilding began in earnest. Arguably, the turning point came in 2010 when the current club president, Andrea Agnelli, took control. A member of the Agnelli Fiat family which has guided the destiny of Juventus since 1923, he put together an impressive team which included director Giuseppe Marotta, coach Antonio Conte and former player, Nedved.

Four successive league titles later, Juve utterly dominate Italian soccer and it would seem that 39-year-old Agnelli knows his onions. He has, of course, the advantage of being a life-long fan of the team, someone who was sitting down to team lunch alongside legendary striker Paolo Rossi at the age of six.

Arguably, Agnelli’s greatest contribution to the Juventus cause has been to oversee the final stages of the building of the 41,000-seater, club-owned Juventus stadium on the site of the Stadio Delle Alpi. Built along ‘Premier League’ lines, the €120 million stadium has seen stadium revenue quadrupled from €11 million in 2010 to €45 million.

Not only is the stadium worth 10 points per season, according to Agnelli, but arguably more importantly, it shows the way forward for a struggling Italian football in which Juventus are still the only Serie A side to own their home ground. Not only does it bring revenue and points but the barrier-free, amenity-rich stadium creates a very different atmosphere, free of violence and racism.

That too is one of the ironies of tonight’s game. An outsider might be tempted to conclude that Juve’s presence in the final is an indication that Italian football is on the mend, on the way up again. As the “Opti Poba” comments about banana-eating African footballers made by federation president Carlo Tavecchio last summer indicate, Italian football still has some serious problems.

In the meantime, though, Italians can be glad that a veritable national institution, the country’s most loved and most hated club, is back where it belongs.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.