In 2006, when Alessandro Del Piero touched down in Rome on the 10th of July, he was probably one of the happiest men on Earth. He’d just one the World Cup with Italy, barely two months after he’d won the Serie A title with Juventus, alongside international teammates Fabio Cannavaro, Mauro Camoranesi, Gianluca Zambrotta and Gianluigi Buffon, Romano Prodi, who was Prime Minister at the time, greeted them on the steps of the Circus Maximus in Rome, as an entire nation prepared to party. “You have shown young people how results are gained through effort, sweat and hard work right to the end,” he said.
Del Piero and his Italian team mates deserved a rich reward for their exploits over the summer, but that wasn’t to be the case. Italian police had uncovered a huge scandal involving a multitude of clubs from Serie A and Serie B, which implicated AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina, Reggina and Champions Juventus.
The scandal – which the media dubbed Calciopoli – revealed transcripts of recorded telephone conversations which were later published in Italian newspapers, containing segments of speech between then Juventus General Manager Luciano Moggi and representatives of Italian football over favourable appointment of referees for his side.
As a consequence of the trial, Juventus were stripped of two of their previous titles and relegated to Serie B, with a deduction of 9 points with effect from the start of their new season. What was worse was that a significant number of La Vecchia Signora’s players left the Club following her relegation. Fabio Cannavaro went to Real Madrid while his defensive partner jumped ship to rivals Barcelona. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira went to arch-rivals Inter Milan.
But a clutch of players including Del Piero, Camoranesi, David Trezeguet, Giorgio Chiellini, Paolo de Ceglie and Pavel Nedved remained loyal to Juventus, and they won back promotion to the Italian top flight, winning Serie B in the process.
Their next season – 2007-08 – saw Claudio Ranieri take over as manager, and under him, they managed a very respectable third-placed finish and progressing to the Quarter-finals of the Italian Cup. Juventus had shown that they did indeed deserve to be back in Italy’s top flight, and they went one better next season when they finished second in the league, ten points behind winners Inter Milan, looking like genuine title contenders for large parts of the season.
Despite his performances with the Torinese club, Ranieri was sacked in May of that season following a barren run of results towards the end of the season after he had constantly belittled his players throughout Juve’s League campaign. Juve also made it through to the knockout stages in Europe, but lost out to Chelsea in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
But Ranieri’s sacking was to have deep consequences. Under the Ciro Ferrara, Juventus failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and stumbled to a 7th placed finish in Serie A. Things didn’t improve when Alberto Zaccheroni was made head coach in January, as Juve crashed out of the Europa League following an aggregate defeat against Fulham in the quarter-finals. Things didn’t improve next season when yet another man at the helm, Luigi del Neri, failed to improve on the previous season’s finish, as the Bianconeri missed out on the knockout stages of the Europa League, although they did make it to the quarter-finals of the Italian Cup.
By this point, pundits and fans alike were seriously beginning to question Juve’s top-flight credentials. They were yet to win silverware since returning to the top-flight and had not made it past the quarter-finals of a major tournament. All that changed when Antonio Conte was appointed manager. The 43-year-old had been in charge of Siena and Atalanta in the past, but was relatively unheralded, which meant Juventus was a big step-up.
Conte has turned out to be the best thing to happen to Juventus since their return to Italy’s top-flight. Under him, Juventus won the Italian League title with a game to spare, and are in the finals of the Coppa Italia, where they will face Napoli on the 20th of May. To add further gloss to this achievement, Juve have gone the entire season unbeaten in all competitions: to add to their run of 37 league games without defeat, they’ve also not lost a single game in their cup matches, bringing the total number of games since their last defeat to 41.
Juve’s victory is more than just another trophy in the cabinet of Italy’s most successful club. After four years of humiliation where they witnessed not just the likes of Inter and Milan win the Scudetto, but also the loss of their two previous league titles, which the players earned through ‘effort, sweat and hard work right to the end’, to quote Mr. Prodi, they are back where they belong: right at the top. It could’ve been very easy for Juventus to fall further into ignominy after Calciopoli: their administrative set-up was a shambles. their general manager had been banned from Italian football. Moreover, no one wants to join a club that was at the centre of one of football’s biggest ever match-fixing scandals.
But when Juventus fell, the only way for them was up. And they have soared to the top of one of Europe’s best leagues. Clubs across Italy and the rest of Europe will now take notice when they face the club whose players wear the black and white stripes with fierce pride and unquestionable determination.
The dark days of Juventus are now surely past them, and fans can now cry out the two words that mean so much to them: Forza Juve!