By J Hutcherson (Jul 17, 2018) US Soccer Players - When Juventus arrives in the United States later this month, they're not going to be the team anybody expected. That includes their fellow European teams on their International Champions Cup schedule as well as the MLS All-Stars they'll play in Atlanta on August 1. Nobody saw Juventus deciding to reinstate their super club status by successfully putting in a transfer bid for Cristiano Ronaldo. Nobody saw Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo's former coach at European champions Real Madrid, following in a few months as a "special advisor".
Juventus has reset the stage domestically and in Europe, and they've done it in time to raise their profile on tour in the United States this summer. Obviously, none of the teams or personalities involved are new to a live US audience. Ronaldo wasn't in the squad when Real Madrid played the MLS All-Stars last summer in Chicago, but he's played against an MLS team before. The summer touring schedule is such a part of the American soccer culture that's it's more difficult to come up with an elite player or club who hasn't.
What they show in the United States may or may not be a preview of what we'll see this season in Serie A and the Champions League. It's the Champions League where Juventus is looking for the only breakthrough left. They need to win Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 1995-96. Making the final isn't the point. They were last in the final two years ago, losing 4-1to Real Madrid and 3-1 to Barcelona two seasons before that. Getting to a final isn't the issue. It's about making the moves to win.
Enter Cristiano Ronaldo, the type of boldface move once associated with Serie A as a whole. This is a league where Diego Maradona played for Napoli, where AC Milan fielded a prototype of a superclub in the early 90s, and where the conversation for the best league in the world once ended. Now? Plenty of people have already pointed out that Juventus is already dominating Serie A in a way that plays down the rest of the competition. AC Milan just got bought out of financial difficulty. Inter Milan isn't the club it was when it was lifting the Champions League trophy in 2010.
Things changed quickly in Italy, potentially leaving Serie A behind in an era of Spanish dominance, Bayern Munich dominating in Germany, and the Premier League making a whole lot of money. It's easy enough to see Juventus pulling a PSG, but the biggest club in France isn't standing still. This is a competition after all, domestically and in Europe. Moves like the ones Juventus is making require responses.
“It was an easy decision to join Juventus," Ronaldo said in his introductory press conference. "They’re the greatest club in Italy and one of the best in the world. They have a top coach and president, who are used to winning things. It’s no coincidence that they have won the last seven Scudetto titles in a row. I feel honored that Juve thought of me and I now want to take the club to an even higher level. I want to make my mark in the history of Juventus."
Ronaldo also talked about the Champions League, calling himself the club's potential "lucky star". Fair enough considering he's been the key component of Real Madrid's three-peat. There's no reason to see anybody at Juventus designing tactics or bringing in players that would conflict with what Ronaldo does best. Letting Ronaldo work is the easiest tactical adjustment any super club could possibly make.
So this is the game in 2018-19. The new Champions League qualifying structure puts more elite teams directly into the group stage. The stakes for all involved are obvious as they wait to see the Champions League draw on August 30. For Juventus, they've already put out the marker for this tournament. They're the team to beat right now, setting themselves apart even from the defending champions Real Madrid. That's the point, grabbing the spotlight at an opportune time when it looks like the order at the top of Europe might shift. It will shift between the same group of super clubs, but that's nothing new.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- The Champions League changes all over again
- Overreacting to World Cup upsets
- Can the Premier League handle the money?
- Is instant replay in soccer a feature or a bug?
Logo courtesy of Juventus