It took longer than many people expected, but on Sunday Juventus were finally crowned champions of Italy. May 21, 2017 will forever be the date that this team became truly historic, now the first side ever to clinch the Serie A title in six consecutive seasons. Following a 3-0 victory against Crotone, Gigi Buffon lifted the trophy high into the Turin sky as fireworks exploded and his team-mates celebrated a truly remarkable accomplishment, but the goalkeeper could help but reminisce about where he was almost exactly a decade earlier.
On May 19 2007, he stood between the posts at the Stadio Città in Arezzo, helping Juve secure a 5-1 victory that ensured their return to the top flight. Relegated to Serie B for their part in the Calciopoli scandal twelve months earlier, the Bianconeri had survived the loss of six great players and fought their way to promotion.
Supporters of the Bianconeri will never forget that tumultuous time, and in a recent social media post, Buffon took time to remark on the journey both his career and his club had taken between those two accomplishments.
“Exactly 10 years. Like the 10 Scudetti I won. Always in black and white. It’s a bit of a circle that closes with this incredible championship,” he wrote. “We fought and won. Nobody gave us anything. Every opponent we face is committed to the maximum. Many have fought against. It’s normal: the strongest teams are always shunned but I keep the dislike and leave to others the contemplation of the legacy that this team has managed to build: three Italian cups in a row, six consecutive champions and a Champions League final still to play. A year to remember. Never forget who we are: Juventus.”
It is impossible to argue with that assessment, but in truth it has not been a ten-year journey. Following the club’s return to Serie A in 2007, the Turin giants endured one of the worst spells in their history, mismanaged from the moment they escaped the second tier. Sporting director Alessio Secco had replaced Luciano Moggi as the man responsible for Juve’s transfer strategy, wasting countless millions on players simply not good enough to represent Italian football’s grand Old Lady.
Brazilian striker Amauri arrived at a cost of over €22 million, compatriot Felipe Melo a further €25 million, while coaches like Ciro Ferrara and Alberto Zaccheroni proved incapable of improving the side. The twilight years of David Trezeguet, Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero were played out in mid table mediocrity, a position that felt like purgatory for a club whose motto boasts that “winning is not important, it’s the only thing that counts.”
Those words never seemed more hollow as the Bianconeri limped to two consecutive seventh-place finishes, but the arrival of Antonio Conte in 2011 would prove to be a perfectly timed appointment. Formerly captain of the club and a combative midfielder as they dominated the late 1990s, few understood just what made Juventus tick like the current Chelsea boss and he quickly galvanised a rapidly improving squad.
That same summer saw the opening of Juventus Stadium, with new Director General Beppe Marotta ensuring the team he built was one worthy of such a stage. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner had been added, and Conte’s side would deliver in spectacular fashion. Going undefeated over the entire season, they were once again Italian football’s leading light, and the coach would steer them to two more titles before walking away just prior to the start of the 2014/15 campaign.
Max Allegri would replace him and add an extra dimension to the team, his tactical brilliance allowing Juve to flourish in Europe as they completed a domestic double and reached the Champions League final in his first year. They would repeat the league and Coppa Italia sweep last term too, going on to add a third this term to write a new chapter in the club’s story of success.
Now a date with destiny and Cristiano Ronaldo awaits. Cardiff is a long way from Arezzo, but Buffon and his team-mates will hope that they can celebrate the ultimate victory against Real Madrid in two weeks time.