The Return of the Old Lady

old lady

The last time Juventus were in the Champions League Final was a time when the United States of America had “just concluded major combat operations in Iraq” and had displayed the much criticized and, in major hindsight, factually wrong banner stating “Mission Accomplished”. It was a time when googling the words Arnab Goswami Socially Liberal Xenophobe would have confused Google. Mark Zuckerberg had not even written the code for Facemash. The date was 28 May 2003.

It was the pinnacle for the Juventus team of that generation. Alessandro del Piero, Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet, Edgar Davids, Gigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro were regular starters. Juventus were dominating the Serie A, or were at the very least in constant competition for the Scudetto along with AC Milan and Internazionale (Inter Milan). They could not quite win in 2003 but they were one of THE dominant teams in European football. Three years later, they were in the limelight for the wrong reasons. They were suspected, accused and convicted of bribing referees and were severely punished. They were relegated to Serie C (third tier of Italian Football) stripped of a title and, to top it all, several players left. These included Cannavaro, Davids, Trezeguet and a host of other first team players. They climbed back with successive promotions, but they were tainted. A club whose recent history had been tarnished by the idiocy of those at top. I call it idiocy because a team with those many good individuals should not be one that needs a helping hand, ever. And even if you argue that the two Milan teams were great, the moment that those in charge at Juve decided to tilt the scales through acts that are morally decrepit and intellectually bankrupt was the moment that football in Italy took a severe hit. It was thinking of every Ali-Frazier fight and all their greatness juxtaposed suddenly against the fact that Ali had the fights rigged anyway. He didn’t, obviously, but the notion itself gives rise to a hypothetical that doesn’t deserve to exist. You want Goliath to go up against Goliath to see who comes out on top in the carnage. This was the equivalent of Rahul Gandhi leading the Congress in the last elections. Everyone knew that the battle was over before it began since Babaji’s favorite Thullu was leading one side.

Enough about the past. Last night, Juventus went to Madrid and drew 1-1 with Real. This led to a 3-2 aggregate win over the two legs of the Champions League semifinal where Real looked nothing like the side that had blown everyone out of the water for the first third of the season. Juve boast a league winning side and have one of the two best midfields that this competition can boast (the other is Barca). Their ideal midfield is a narrow yet dynamic diamond that includes the tireless Claudio Marchisio, the beastly Arturo Vidal and the wonderful Paul Pogba (otherwise known as Sir Alex’s biggest mistake – why did we let him go? No, seriously. What the fuck? But I digress.) playing ahead of the magnificent, sexy (oh so sexy!), brilliant, fabulous, God-himself-wishes-he-could-play-like-Pirlo and magnificently bearded Andrea Pirlo. This midfield is topped off by Carlos Tevez (again, why did we let him go?) and Alvaro Morata. The Juve defense is usually the evergreen Patrice Evra, Chiellini, Bonucci and Lichtsteiner, rounded off by Gigi Buffon. That is a fucking fantastic team. This team is one of the finalists for this year’s Champions League.

The other team shall be described in the form of a cricket analogy. It consists of AB De Villiers in a double role along with Sir Don as the front three. Behind Sir Don, AB and AB there is one more AB ably supported by two Steve Smiths. In other words, the front six of Barcelona are Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Iniesta, Rakitic and Busquets. The backline consists of a marauding Dani Alves, a currently in-form and therefore imperious Gerard Pique, the excellent Javier Mascherano (who was playing at former famous club Liverpool at one point of time. MEGALOLMAXLOL) and the equally marauding Jordi Alba.

This is a team that has won 38 of its last 42 games. They destroyed Bayern Munich in Barcelona. The images of Messi leaving Boateng on the floor and Suarez making Benatia look like a dumbass were a microcosm of the manner in which Bayern were treated by Barcelona. Pep Guardiola will hate this fixture forever. On different sides, he has suffered 0-7 and 3-5 aggregate losses. The common thread was that on both occasions, his teams looked well beaten and his strategies were not of the required standard.

Barcelona come into this game in tremendous form as described above. Messi, Suarez and Neymar alone have scored 117 goals this season in all competitions. For reference, Chelsea have scored 106 in total having played one more competition. Boring boring Chelsea, indeed! (Actually not boring. I quite agree with Gary Neville on the boring tag). They seem to have a very, very good midfield (Xavi is on the bench) and have a backline that is in form. They have a great young German goalkeeper between the sticks who exclusively only plays Champions League games. In short, this is like any of the Terminators. Machines that are built to destroy and are very near indestructible.

But true to the analogy, they face a Juventus team that has been waiting for this stage for a while. They have been in the Champions League for 4 seasons in a row and finally have the opportunity to walk where they belong. Unlike the human protagonists in the Terminator movies though, Juventus are fairly handy themselves. But to be honest, describing them as human would be akin to calling Silvio Berlusconi’s sexual predilections as normal. They are in this case the Schwarzenegger from movies 2 and 3. (The 4th Terminator movie was entirely photoshopped. Christian Bale has since filed a defamation suit for being portrayed as the lead in a movie that was as crappy as that one). They pack a serious punch and will relish the chance to once again reach the fabled heights of the past.

It is easy to see what they have to do to win. They have to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar simultaneously. They have to dominate Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic in midfield. They have to get past Mascherano et al at the back. Fairly simple. At least the last two can be categorized as possible or even probable. The Juventus midfield is phenomenal and Tevez is his usual brilliant terrorizing self. But how do you stop this Barca attack? At times, they seem to play on instinct alone – each knowing where the other is and what they are going to do. I wager that they don’t know half the things they execute seconds before they do it themselves. Good luck trying to preempt that. Well, any manager that finds an answer to that should just be given a prize for beating life itself.

As a final word, I am glad that Real lost. Not because I hate Real. But because, I am sick of Real playing Barca and how each Clasico is the ultimate one. They really aren’t all great. And each time they play each other so quickly, the word clasico itself loses meaning. But what is worst is this Messi v. Ronaldo business. I know that they are both great but reducing a football game to a 1 on 1 is shortsighted and terribly demeaning to the 20 other individuals out there. Apart from that, it is a constant insult to the intelligence of those that watch football and can claim to know a little about it. Lastly, Gareth Bale can’t possibly be blamed if Barca win the final by the Spanish press. What’s that? They will. Well, such is life.

Having been to both Turin and Barcelona (I know. I have lived quite well.), I can tell you that visiting them is of no consequence to the match. They are great cities though. I just included that to make the last para a little longer and I have always wanted to say Eurotrip Burn! I for one can’t wait for 6th June and for Berlin to witness the Old Lady return to where she belongs. Between her and glory stands a machine that is as skilled as it is unrelenting. Maybe destiny will be kind to this old lady. I somehow suspect that this old lady doesn’t give a shit about destiny being kind. She is willing to seize the essence of glory itself.

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