Juventus will always be a team that divides people. Unless you are a fan of the club, in Italy you most likely celebrate their defeats and mourn their wins, attributing them to either their superior wealth or suspicious behaviour. Juventus were of course demoted due to the Calciopoli scandal and yet despite their rise from the ashes, their business model, their success in both Europe and in Italy, their wins will forever be regarded with suspicion.
Since Juventus defeated Inter Milan in the Derby d’Italia last Saturday, debates have raged around the peninsula. Why was Matias Vecino sent off? How was Miralem Pjanic not sent off? Why were Juve “lucky” with the refereeing decisions again?
One must understand Inter’s outrage for the Bianconeri felt something similar against Real Madrid in the Champions League. “Fans” will always indulge in conspiracies, point fingers and blame a club that once employed Luciano Moggi.
However, what is unacceptable is how clubs have sought to point at Juve for their own inadequacies. Inter’s season did not hang on this one match against Juventus. The Derby d’Italia was a Serie A match and not a knockout fixture. If Inter fail to make it into the top four then that has more to do with their defeats against sides such as Udinese and Sassuolo then it does over whether or not Pjanic ought to have been sent off in the second half.
It’s even depressing to hear Napoli’s Coach Maurizio Sarri’s words on Serie A and how it compares to the Premier League. “The risk is that we’ll lose many fans, because they cheer on teams that will never win and they know that too well.” The Premier League is indeed fun to watch and competitive but that is not the only reason it attracts fans. Premier League sides spend money on big players, have packed stadiums and ensure the safety of their fans something few clubs in Italy can manage.
Serie A is not losing support because Juventus are too good, it’s losing ground because of a number of issues starting with the refusal of certain clubs and establishments to accept their weaknesses in the hope that they can then turn them into strengths.
The Bundesliga has had a habitual winner in Bayern Munich, winner of six consecutive titles, but has the German league lost fans? In fact, it has often been hailed as a model to follow for its growing fan base and economic strength.
Sarri is right, it would be nice for another Italian side to celebrate a trophy, but Roma gained approximately €99 million in revenue and many fans after their tremendous showing in the Champions League, a competition Napoli exited at the group stage. Perhaps the Partenopei should be questioning the club’s decision to focus solely on Serie A, foregoing other opportunities for glory in either the Champions League, Coppa Italia or Europa League.
Juventus could only draw to a side fighting relegation in Crotone and lost to Napoli at home for the first time in nine years. The Old Lady dropped five points in two games. The Partenopei ought to have exploited their opportunities and kept up momentum rather than lose 3-0 to Fiorentina. They must recognise their own inadequacies like their commercial planning in a bid to raise revenues, their decisions and executions in the transfer market and their tactical flexibility. Certain things that perhaps Juventus must think about when it comes to their performances in Europe. And there is a still a good chance Napoli can win the title.
Juventus are not a perfect club and their behaviour this season especially in Europe has been far from exemplary. However, they simply cannot be batted away as mere cheaters every time they lift a trophy or simply win a match. This is a side that few teams in Europe are managing to overcome, a team that reached the Champions League final twice in three years and pulled off a historic comeback in the Bernabeu this season despite their ageing squad. They are simply, a well-constructed team led by a good manager that fights until the end — albeit not too well when it comes to finals against Spanish sides.
Juventus need to only win two of their next three matches to secure the title and there’s no better time to collect three points than on Saturday night when Juventus host Bologna, a side that hasn’t won an away fixture since December. Massimiliano Allegri is right to keep reminding his men that they haven’t won anything yet, as another lethargic performance simply won’t do. With ambition and intensity, Juve can fight to win another league title and keep annoying their critics as only winners do.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.