By J Hutcherson (Mar 23, 2021) US Soccer Players – The response to Juventus losing 1-0 at home to Benevento was about what you’d expect from one of soccer’s “passionate” fan bases. You can pile whatever you want into “passionate” since it normally applies to supporters of clubs large and small. What it normally means in an elite European club context is extremely unhappy with the spreadsheet to prove it. Cue the calls for yet another revamp for a club designed to win Champions League titles with Serie A as a forgone conclusion.
In 3rd-place with 55 points, four behind 2nd-place Milan and 10 behind Serie A leaders, Juventus faces a difficult climb to the top of the table over their remaining 11 games. It’s one of those possible in theory, unlikely in practice issues compounded by their Champions League exit to Porto in the round of 16. Though it takes more than a couple of weeks to sink a season, for Juventus it’s tough to push against what happened from March 9 through the 21.
“We’ve been here for eleven years and we’ve always won and made changes, including through difficult decisions that led to subsequent projects,” Juventus chief football officer Fabio Paratici said. “I hear people talk about the cycle being over, but since I’ve been here there have been numerous cycles and we’ve continued to win, taking risks. The word transition doesn’t exist at Juventus – we always play to win. Some seasons go better than others, but the word transition doesn’t exist.”
Whatever they want to call it, what they have right now is plenty of time to think about it. The international break isn’t going to reset much for this squad. The transfer window is closed, focusing expectations as much on the summer as right now. That means calls for a coaching change are as unfounded as they are unlikely. Those concerns over the coach got plenty of voice following the Benevento loss, but it’s exactly what happens in any version of this scenario. A shock loss leads to shocked responses. The idea that this would be the tipping point for Andrea Pirlo as Juventus coach seems unfounded.
Still, this remains a team built for more. The very real cost that comes with that looms large. Pirlo has no choice but to address that, especially since it happened just before that gap in the schedule.
When the result is hanging in the balance, panic can start to set in and that wasn’t the attitude required,” Pirlo said following the loss to Benevento. “We also needed a little extra desire to get the result, because there was a real opportunity for us to close to gap in the league. We have to change our mindset: we wear a jersey of huge importance, which must always be honored. Our attitude has to be different in games like this.”
Manageable games at home against a 16th-ranked team, something that seems to catch more than a few bigger clubs out this season. Though the parity issue normally applies to the Premier League, it’s showing up all over Europe. A quick look at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament shows the same thing. In the pandemic era, the idea of a favorite in tournament or league play may simply be expecting too much.
Pick a league table in Europe, and there’s likely some club with some explaining to do. If it’s not the league, it’s in Europe and that’s just a waiting game for additional disappointment. Maybe with the exception of Porto, none of the teams that made it to the quarterfinals are going to be able to avoid uncomfortable questions if that’s as far as they go. Even Liverpool, currently 7th in the Premier League with a host of issues, isn’t going to see La Liga’s 2nd-place club as an unavoidable conclusion.
Why should they? If this is the season of the upset, recast the Premier League champions as underdogs and see what they can accomplish against not quite as mighty Real Madrid. That’s more or less the game right now. It won’t always be, but it’s the situation so many of these clubs now have time to think about.
In the biggest possible picture in Europe, this can’t help but impact the discussions about the Champions League revamp. That’s taking place in a broader “state of the game” reassessment that will eventually leave people extremely disappointed. If it’s the elite clubs, they’ll need to have gotten just enough to forestall a breakaway. If it’s the teams making up the numbers and staring down a future hoping for the Europa Conference League, well, you see the problem for them.
As easy as it is to look at this as the top teams insisting on their way or else, the problems their complaints represent are justifiable. There’s a disparity even among the teams that appear to be rolling in cash, especially when big spending doesn’t work as well as they believe it should. That doubles down on the problem of quality control and getting what a team thinks they’re paying for. Without that, it’s not the game any of them thought they were playing.
If, rather than when, normal service returns, most of these teams will have had to make adjustments for their newly discovered reality. Blame it on pandemic restraints across society, the lack of home field advantage, economic concerns, leagues and governing bodies insisting on this glut of games, and whatever else makes this miserable list. What it’s creating is a new series of questions that may not be temporary. That should be of concern for all of Europe’s clubs regardless of size or position in the table.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson:
- The BeNe League as an answer
- The Deutsche Fussball Liga’s pandemic finances
- Is European club soccer set for this much change?
- Major League Soccer’s next geography lesson
Logo courtesy of Juventus