Their insurmountable lead in Serie A and surprising elimination in the Coppa Italia, makes Juventus’ upcoming match against Atletico Madrid even more important than their previous return legs in the Champions League during recent seasons. On Tuesday night the bianconeri will look to come back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in their history against an opponent who loves nothing more than defending a lead.
While the challenge is massive, so were the expectations going into this season. But who has more at stake when Juventus take to the pitch at Allianz Stadium?
While the Tuscan manager is used to being criticized for his defensive and bare minimum approach, this season he has turned into a human piñata, especially on social media. Certainly Allegri deserves a lot of credit for raising the bar at the club in Europe (he often likes to remind the media and fans that Juventus was struggling against Swedish and Danish clubs prior to his arrival) and you can make a case he’s a victim of his own success, but in the match at the Wanda stadium there’s no doubt he got outcoached and it’s fair to say he hasn’t been able to get the most out of his remarkable impressive offensive weapons through out the season- he especially hasn’t been able to make Dybala fit in with Ronaldo.
But while Allegri’s popularity with Juventus has plummeted like Tesla’s stock after Elon Musk appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he’s held in very high regard from non Serie A fans and is certainly a very marketable name should he need to find a new job in the summer. Allegri has proven that he could take Juventus from B to C after Antonio Conte had gotten them back on track, he has shown he can handle star players (and even discipline them when necessary in an effective way if you look at Bonucci’s desire to return to the club) and his management of the media is second to none in Italy- a very important skill at top clubs anywhere.
Should Juventus be eliminated on Tuesday, Allegri will certainly receive a lot of blame in the short term but to those outside of the Juve bubble, the story line will be that he’s a great manager who just happened to lose to Atletico, a team with an excellent track record in Europe and a top coach.
I know what many of you are thinking- how can CR7 have anything at stake on Tuesday considering that he’s already won 5 Champions League and that Real Madrid have struggled since his departure? But in his case, a premature elimination in Europe’s biggest competition would mainly be a massive squandered opportunity.
While bringing in Ronaldo has already had substantial benefits to Juventus’ brand globally, on the pitch he was brought in to elevate the team in the Champions League- a competition where he has arguably been the best player ever. Winning one at Juventus, a club that is mainly known for the finals they lost and a general vibe of disappointment, would certainly elevate the way Ronaldo is perceived historically and in his endless debate with Leo Messi- it would be somewhat similar to what winning a title in Cleveland did for Lebron James despite the fact he had already won in Miami.
Now Ronaldo will have other opportunities to win a Champions League at Juventus since he signed a multi year deal, but it’s also hard to see an easier path to the cup than this current edition since Real Madrid and PSG are already out and one between Liverpool and Bayern Munich won’t make it to the next round. Age is also a huge factor, while Ronaldo is in great shape he’s also 34, a decline in the later years of his contract is almost inevitable and nothing would help his legacy more than winning a Champions League at Juventus as their best player.
Ronaldo certainly has a devoted fan base that transcends clubs, but after the loss to Atletico there’s already a contingent of Juventus supporters who are now wondering if acquiring Ronaldo was worth it in the first place- especially should it also result with sacrificing Dybala in the summer.
In this case I’m referring to the senior management team of Andrea Agnelli, Fabio Paratici, Pavel Nedved and the club’s image. As previously mentioned, acquiring Ronaldo brought some big benefits off the pitch (marketing, financial and a strong relationship with an influential agent like Jorge Mendes) but it also made winning ten scudetti in a row, which can be achieved at the end of next season, almost an after thought for their supporters.
Juventus took the “if you can’t beat him, just acquire him” approach and brought in Ronaldo to finally get over the hump in the Champions League. In doing so they made a massive investment in a player about to enter his mid 30s and substantially increased their wage structure. An early elimination in the Champions League would also take away a very substantial revenue stream which benefitted them substantially the two times they made the finals. In addition adding Ronaldo also overshadowed the fact the management team didn’t do enough to improve the midfield, an elimination would bring that in spotlight front and center.
While Juventus’ management has historically always publicly stated that domestic success is the priority and the Champions League is a crap shot, that changed at the beginning of the season. You can point to the fact that facing Atletico Madrid in the round of sixteen after winning their group stage is further proof that you need some luck in the Champions League, but that will not be enough even when Juventus wins their ninth scudetto in a row.