How Juventus went to hell and back and became European heavyweights again

Charlie Eccleshare
Juventus have clambered back towards the top of European football 

Rimini, on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy, is a beautiful place. Holidaymakers flock to the nine-mile long sandy beach, the clear blue seas and the ancient Roman Tiberius Bridge.

For Juventus though, their visit to Rimini 11 years ago was about as enjoyable as a holiday made up of incessant rain and non-stop family arguments. It was here on September 9 2006 that the recently relegated Juve travelled to face AC Rimini to begin their first and only season in Italy's second division. 

Juve in Serie B could scarcely have been more incongruous. The grand "Old Lady" of Italian football being forced to trade the glamour of the Champions League for the dusty, ramshackle stadiums of teams like Frosinone, AlbinoLeffe and Mantova. It was like sending the Queen to an inner-city estate and telling her to have a kickabout with the local kids. 

But now, after a long and arduous ascent back to the peak of European football, Juventus can laugh at their misfortune as they stand on the brink of greatness. On Wednesday night they are away at Monaco in the Champions League semi-final, favourites to come through the tie and the bookies' choice to win the entire competition.

So how have Juventus done it? In the space of a decade, how have they gone from Serie A champions to second-tier disgrace, and then risen again to defeat European heavyweights like Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last few seasons? 

Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon speak before Juve's first Italian Serie B match against Rimini in 2006

Though they did not realise it at the time, the period of 2006-2011 may have been the making of this Juventus team. Just as Roger Federer needed the tantrums of his youth to become the picture of serenity he is today, or the way Manchester United fed off the fallow 1970s and 1980s to eventually knock Liverpool off what Sir Alex Ferguson called "their f****** perch", Juventus have channelled the indignity of their years spent in the footballing wilderness.

Two months before the trip to Rimini, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero and Mauro Camoranesi had been winning the World Cup final in Berlin with Italy. Now here they were, along with losing finalist David Trezeguet and former Ballon d'Or winner Pavel Nedved, slumming it with the have-nots and never-will-bes in front of barely 10,000 fans. 

Juve had won Serie A in each of the previous two seasons, but had been relegated for their role in the Calciopoli scandal where general managers Luciano Moggi and Antonio Giraudo had been exposed as coercing league officials to make favourable refereeing appointments. 

Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were also implicated, but it was Juve who were deemed to be the worst offenders. The bianconeri were stripped of their two most recent Serie A titles and demoted to Serie B with a 30-point penalty for the start of the season (later reduced to nine points on appeal). 

Manager Fabio Capello - along with most of the club's stars like Fabio Cannavaro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira - swiftly departed, and Italy's most successful club was left to lick its wounds and begin the painful rebuilding process.

Juventus captain Gianluca Vialli holds aloft the Champions League trophy in 1996

The relegation and disgrace that Calciopoli brought stung Juventus badly. This is a club that had always seen itself as exceptional, superior and a little bit different. 

Juventus has been owned by the Agnelli family - the so-called "Kennedys of Italy" - since 1923, which has fostered a keen sense of identity and familiarity. After Giovanni Agnelli founded the Fiat car company in 1899, the family developed into an industrial dynasty and become de facto Italian aristocracy.

For better or for worse, Juventus are seen in a similar light. For better by their supporters, who recognise the hard work that has underpinned the Agnelli's rise. For worse by fans of opposition clubs, who resent what they see as the club's haughty sense of entitlement. That resentment has been made worse by Juve's dominance of Italian football under the Agnelli's ownership. Throughout the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, Juventus hoovered up domestic titles, before winning their first European competition in 1977 when they lifted the Uefa Cup under legendary manager Giovanni Trapattoni. 

The phenomenal Michel Platini inspired them to a first European Cup in 1985, before Marcelo Lippi's all-conquering team of Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli won the Champions League in 1996 to make it 10 continental and international titles in 12 years.

Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids et al. then helped Juve to six out of the next 10 Serie A scudetti, before Calciopoli brought the club to its knees. 

Juventus to their credit responded well by clambering out of Serie B at the first opportunity. After drawing 1-1 with 10-man Rimini on the opening day, they overcame their nine-point penalty to top the division and secure promotion back to the top flight. 

The really tough bit was the few years that followed, which were actually worse than the season in Serie B

Simone Stenti, editor of Juventus TV

"The period was very strange, it felt pretty crazy and at the time it was very very difficult,” says Simone Stenti, the editor of Juventus TV and a lifelong supporter of the club.

"I remember that first match in Rimini and seeing some of the best players in the world in that ‘arena’, which is being generous - it was nothing like the arenas Juve were used to. But as hard as it was, it was also fascinating, and it is almost humorous to think of it now.

"The really tough bit was the few years that followed, which were actually worse than the season in Serie B because we were in a tunnel without seeing a light out of it." 

The initial defiance of that first year gave way to a sense of deflation and a nagging sense that the club were damaged goods post-Calciopoli. Claudio Ranieri was appointed manager in 2007, and although he led the team to second in Serie A the following year, he was sacked in 2009 after a disastrous run of form and a dispute over transfer policy. Fundamentally, Juve neither had the resources nor the clout to attract the very best players to Turin anymore.    

Juventus reached a nadir with a 4-1 Europa League loss at Fulham

The situation got worse over the next couple of years, with Juve enduring consecutive seventh-placed finishes as managers Ciro Ferrara, Alberto Zaccheroni and Luigi Delneri struggled. With Nedved retired, Trezeguet on the way out and Del Piero waning, the generation who had dominated the previous decade were coming to the end of their natural lifecycle. A 4-1 Europa League defeat at Fulham in 2010 represented the nadir for this proud old club. 

Fortunately for Juve, a trio of saviours arrived in the summer of 2011. At last fans were granted their wish as the loathed Stadio delle Alpi was replaced by a glittering new home ground - the Juventus Stadium. Equally as uplifting was the arrival of the masterful Andrea Pirlo from Milan on a free transfer, a signing so significant that it prompted a moment of revelation for Buffon, who later revealed: "The first thing I thought was: 'God exists'. I think it was the signing of the century!". Adding to the sense of rejuvenation, former captain and fans' favourite Antonio Conte arrived with the zeal of an evangelist to take charge of the ailing team. 

Conte ripped into his new charges in his first training session, and harnessed the despair of the Calciopoli years as a way of inspiring the underachieving players. "Lads, we’ve finished seventh each of the last two seasons. Crazy stuff; absolutely appalling," Conte ranted. "I’ve not come here for that. It’s time we stopped being c**p."

Less than a year later they were Serie A champions, having gone the entire season unbeaten. By May 2014 they had won three straight scudetti

It’s time we stopped being c**p

Antonio Conte in 2011

Juve's sense of superiority, domestically at least, was back. "Conte is fundamental to what’s happening here now," says Stenti. "He changed the minds of the players but even of the coaches of Juve as well. He is a visionary and a very, very good manager, even if he’s a bit crazy."

In July 2014, though, Conte departed Turin to become Italy manager. Upon leaving, he said that Juve lacked the financial strength to compete with Europe's biggest clubs, quipping that they "could not eat at a €100 restaurant with just €10 in their pocket". 

Whether wittingly or not, the parting shot was one last piece of inspiration from Conte to the Juventus squad. The following season, the first under new manager Massimiliano Allegri, Juve went all the way to the Champions League final (having never got beyond the quarters under Conte) where they were beaten by Barcelona in Berlin. Defender Giorgio Chiellini​ admitted during the campaign that Conte leaving had made the team determined to show that their success was not just down to the former manager. "The change of coach gave Juventus something more, because in the first two months of the season we wanted to prove that we were still the best," Chiellini said in March 2015. 

"We are grateful to Conte and recognise everything he did here, but we also want to prove to everyone and, above all, to ourselves that we are a great team."

Conte's shadow has loomed largest over Allegri. Though now very popular with the Juventus supporters, Allegri was initially viewed as an underwhelming appointment. Following a club hero like Conte, who had been so successful, was not easy - especially as Allegri had come straight from a four-year stint at rivals Milan.

Juventus were rejuvenated under Antonio Conte (R)

Personality-wise, the two men could hardly be more different. Where the southern Italian Conte is a maniacal presence on the touchline whose confrontational style would make Gordon Ramsay blush, "Max" is a dapper, urbane Tuscan who permanently looks as though he's about to light up a cigar and start sipping a tumbler of whisky. 

The notion that Allegri was riding on Conte's coat-tails was initially hard to shift, but it now appears as though he has shrewdly built on his predecessor's foundations to take Juventus to another level. Domestically, Allegri will match Conte's achievement of three straight scudetti in the next couple of weeks and having finished as runners-up to Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League, Juve now stand on the verge of reaching another final, where they would be much more fancied.

Part of the change this year is that Juventus are far more confident and comfortable in themselves than they were in 2015, when reaching the Champions League final was such a shock that it was almost viewed as an end in itself. Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Pirlo may have left from that team, but Allegri has instilled such a winning mentality that their departures have barely been felt. 

Juventus's major titles

Allegri has also employed a more sensitive approach and moved away from the eye-popping intensity of Conte, who was known for his relentlessness and sometimes frenzied team talks.  

Conte demanded a huge amount from his players, regularly giving them lectures on their opposition that would last an hour and 20 minutes (it is generally accepted that anything more than 15 minutes is too long for footballers), and the downside was that they would often run out of steam by the time the Champions League knockouts rolled around. 

According to Stenti, "Allegri is smarter and softer. He gets the needs of the players and is not as forceful as Conte. Conte has his own ideas and nobody can go against them. Allegri listens to the needs of the players, and tries to be accommodating."  

There is also a sense that Allegri could stay and try to build a dynasty with this team, whereas a suspicion always lingered that Conte was too good and too restless to stay anywhere more than a few years. 

Every now and then I come up with a mad idea and try it on the pitch

Juventus manager Max Allegri

This being Italian football, though, it is in the tactical arena that Allegri has truly won over the Juve cognoscenti this season. In January he made a tweak to the team that has been viewed as a symbolic departure from the Conte era.

After a dismal 2-1 defeat at Fiorentina, Allegri dumped the 3-5-2 formation that had been Conte and the team's calling card, and changed to a 4-2-3-1 system. Nine straight wins followed in what has been as successful a switch as Conte's move to a 3-4-3 at Chelsea this season. 

The change of system meant dispensing with Andrea Barzagli, the veteran Italian centre-back, who had formed part of the venerated "BBC" triumvirate with Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of the Juve and Italy defence. The new set-up has seen Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira - who is suspended for the first leg against Monaco - flourish as a central midfield pair, and brought the best out of Brazilian full-backs Dani Alves and Alex Sandro. 

Chiellini and Bonucci meanwhile have quickly formed a formidable centre-back pairing, keeping clean sheets in six of their first eight matches as a twosome, while behind them the evergreen 39-year-old goalkeeper Buffon is getting even better with age. 

Allegri says of the new formation: "Every now and then I come up with a mad idea and try it on the pitch. I made the choice after the Fiorentina match because I thought it was right to give something more to the team and to allow the team to express its full potential."

Paulo Dybala inspired Juventus to a thrilling win over Barcelona last month

Nowhere has the team's potential been better displayed than in the two legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, where Juve were fully deserving 3-0 aggregate winners. 

"Barcelona failing to score goals over two legs is almost unheard of," a beaming Allegri said at the Nou Camp. "It felt like we could have played for a whole day and not conceded."

Going forward, Juventus are similarly effective. Juan Cuadrado's pace and trickery on the right is complemented by Mario Mandzukic's snarling physicality on the left. Up front, Paulo Dybala's dynamism and finishing have drawn inevitable comparisons with compatriot Lionel Messi, while Higuain is the club's best out and out striker since Trezeguet. 

A Champions League semi-final against the freewheeling, free-scoring Monaco will give a good indication of how far they have progressed, with a possible final against one of the Madrid clubs on the horizon. 

In just over a decade, Juventus have gone from that gloomy afternoon on the Adriatic coast to the most rarefied heights of European football. Thanks to Conte, Allegri and the character-building experience of a year in the boondocks, the 'Old Lady' of Italian football has been to hell and back.

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