Is a Juventus Champions League title in the chronicles of Ronaldo?
Background photo: Reimund Bertrams
Have you seen Pitch Black? It is the first and easily best film in Vin Diesel’s Riddick trilogy despite the low budget.
Quick synopsis: Riddick is in transport through space to prison when the cargo ship carrying him crashes on a desert planet where he escapes. The days are brutally hot on this world but it’s the night that holds the danger. Flying creatures with voracious appetites and spears for claws come out to hunt the ship’s crew and passengers. Riddick rejoins them, using special talents that include exceptional night vision to fight for human survival. Just when that survival appears to be won [SPOILER ALERT, LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY], the ship’s female captain is ripped from Riddick’s arms by a hungry creature.
Substitute scoring ability for night vision, Juventus for the cargo ship and the Champions League for survival and you have a similar story in football, with the biggest differences being that the Bianconeri’s best effort is yet to come and their low-budget projects follow rather than precede the blockbuster epics provided by Cristiano Ronaldo’s time at Real Madrid.
Like Riddick, CR7 is an anti-hero. His personality does him no favours but his talent is undeniable. Last summer, he left behind the bright lights and spectacle of the Santiago Bernabeu for a more black and white existence in Turin, his mission to win the Champions League for perennial bridesmaids, Juve.
As in Pitch Black, he came very close but ultimately failed. After engineering a stunning comeback against Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16, glory was ripped from him and the Old Lady by Ajax in the quarterfinals.
Football is no different than the movies, however. Each new season is a sequel with the challenge being to produce a campaign better than the last.
Nor is the beautiful game shy about stealing characters and plots from other, more successful projects. The club hired Maurizio Sarri from Chelsea after the Italian won the Europa League with the Blues. Now they are closing in on nemesis Ajax’s teenage captain, Matthijs de Ligt. Credible accounts suggest his signing is imminent. The Zebras' ageing backline lost 37-year-old Andrea Barzagli at season’s end. It can use a youthful injection.
With De Ligt added to the lineup, Juventus' quest begins to look more like a buddy film than a vehicle for one superstar. In truth, however, the team always thrived by building a strong ensemble cast and does so without going over-budget.
If you look at the Old Lady’s 2019/20 arrivals and departures on Transfermarkt, you’ll find a left back at the top of each column. On July 1st, 26-year-old Leonardo Spinnazola was sold to Roma for €29.5 million. On the same day, Juve acquired 20-year-old Luca Pellegrini from the Giallorossi for €22 million. New technical director Fabio Paratici continued the tradition set in place by Beppe Marotta and a long line of predecessors. The swap made his squad younger at fullback while also raising €7.5 million for other business.
Look beyond Pellegrini’s arrival and you’ll see two midfielders, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, both signed on a free transfer. Signing valuable talent out of contract is another time-honoured practice at the club. Khedira, Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Emre Can were all signed on a free. It’s almost as though the Bosman rule was written specifically for the 35-time Serie A champions.
Ramsey and Rabiot arrive to do for the midfield what it is hoped De Ligt will accomplish for the rearguard, albeit not in such extreme fashion. Khedira and Blaise Matuidi are both 32. Juan Cuadrado is 31. Miralem Pjanic is only 29 but flagging. At 28 and 24 respectively, the Welsh and Frenchman erase years in the middle of the park but bring more experience and maturity to the table than the precocious Dutchman.
In Pjanic, Ramsey and Rabiot, Juventus now have their Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro to support Ronaldo. He won’t feel as alone as he did in his first year in stripes. At the back, it is hoped that De Ligt develops into a more composed version of Sergio Ramos.
Others play a role too. Federico Bernardeschi and Moise Kean emerged up front in 2018/19, heirs apparent to Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic. Right-back Joao Cancelo, centre-back Daniele Rugani and goalkeeper Mattia Perin are all in the pipeline as well.
This is how Juventus is run, masterfully, without panic. Failing to win the Champions League after signing Ronaldo doesn’t leave the club stranded in a barren wasteland, in utter darkness, at the mercy of a horde of predators. While not the most pleasant, it was just a stop on a journey that will continue even after they eventually triumph.