When the draw was made for the group stage of this year’s Champions League, Europe’s leading clubs once again found out who they would be facing in the opening set of fixtures of Europe’s elite club competition. The great, the good, and the unheard of were amongst the teams drawn out as the wheels of the Champions League 2011 were set in motion. However, one of the world’s most recognised and loved clubs continued to be missing from the draw. Juventus, Italy’s most successful club, will not only be missing out on Champions League football this season, but will be missing out on European football altogether following last season’s poor domestic campaign.
Last season saw the ‘Bianconeri’ limp over the line and finish in a poor 7th place, a massive 24 points behind eventual Scudetto winners AC Milan as once again a season that promised a potential return to form ended up being another detritus of a campaign. Not since 2003 have Juve won a major honour (unless you count the 2006-7 Serie B title they won following their relegation from the top flight after their part in the match fixing scandal that rocked Italian football), and you have to go back to 2006 for the last time the club managed to reach the knock-out stages of the champions League, when they were beaten at the quarter-final stage by eventual finalists Arsenal. However, the summer of 2011 has brought about renewed optimism for Italy’s ‘Old Lady’, and with a new manager, a whole host of new and intriguing signings, as well as a brand new stadium, Serie A 2011 – 2012 could bring rich prosperities to this famous club.
Juventus’ rebuilding for the new campaign began in May when they announced the appointment of Antonio Conte as the new head coach. Conte had been a popular player for the club for over a decade and won the Champions League with them in 1996, as well as 5 Serie A titles in a glittering career. He had previously enjoyed managerial success at both Bari and Siena, gaining them promotion from Serie B in 2007 and 2010 respectively. The decision to hire Conte as manager appears to be an astute one – he already has the respect of the Juve fans, and more importantly the Juve ‘ultras’ due to his previous work with the club. He has already tasted success as a manager, albeit in a lower division, and his previous work with two of the biggest names in Juve’s squad, and two luminaries of the club in the shape of Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon, should mean he’ll have no problem in exercising his authority.
Juventus’ squad for the new season looks in particularly healthy shape. The recruitment process over the summer was a busy and well thought out one. The highlights were Chilean Arturo Vidal from Bayer Levurkusen, Mirko Vucinic from Roma, Stephan Lichtsteiner from Lazio and Hamburg’s Eljero Elia. Several loan signings from the previous season were made permanent, so that saw Alessandro Matri, Simone Pepe and Fabio Quagliarella sign long term contracts in Turin. One of the most intriguing acquisitions over the summer was that of Andrea Pirlo from rivals AC Milan. Having been a key player for the Rossineri for a decade, he was deemed as surplus to requirements at the San Siro. Juventus were quick to swoop, and now have a player noted for his ability to create chances through his vision and precise passing. More importantly, he brings bags of experience with him.The new look Juventus will be playing their football at their new look home, named ‘The Juventus Stadium’. Built on the same ground as The Stadio Delli Alpi, Juve will hope their new stadium will prove to be more popular with the fans than their old one. Having got rid of the running track that circled the pitch, Italy’s best supported club now has a more aesthetically pleasing venue in which to play their football.
Changes needed to be made between the end of last season and the beginning of this, and this is exactly what Juve have done. Too long now has this great club been under performing, but all the signs suggest this is about to change. Two wins from their opening two league matches underlines this point, but do Juventus have it in them to keep going and reach the top again?