Juventus return to their roots to land title

It has taken six years and many a heartbreak, but Juventus are finally back top of the pile in Italian football.

The club has come a long way in rebuilding its tattered reputation, from that 1-1 draw at Rimini on the opening day of the 2006-07 season, to the 2-0 win at Cagliari which, coupled with AC Milan’s derby defeat, ensured the Bianconeri could not be caught at the top with one game remaining.

Who knows how many honours the club would have collected in the meantime if the heart of the team had not been torn out following the events of Calciopoli and the subsequent demotion to Serie B, even if it their spell in the second tier only lasted one year.

One of the secrets of the Old Lady’s success through the 90s and into the new millennium was the rationale of not being afraid to allow a big name to leave as long as the sound foundations of the team – built through astute management and, of course, major investment – were not undermined.

The roll-call of star names passing through the vaulted headquarters in Turin included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Gianluigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet and the two Fabios, Cannavaro and Capello.

When the bombshell hit in 2006, the name Juventus alone could not guarantee an instant return to the heights of previous decades, as the likes of Real Madrid and Inter cherry-picked the major assets, including title-winning coach Capello.

It has taken three presidents and six coaches to achieve this crowning moment, and although there was a third place finish on their return in 2007-08, and a runners-up spot in 2008-09 there seemed little in the way of continuity to suggest that a league title was in the offing.

At the higher management level, Giovaani Coboli Gigli arrived from a business background to lead from the boardroom, while the urbane Jean Claude Blanc put his business degree from Harvard to good use.

The Luciano Moggi-Roberto Bettega era would be erased from history, but the new line-up were mere babes in the murky world of Italian football. After a host of coaches came and left, having failed, it took a return to the past to finally get Juve back on an even keel.

It seems incredible that a club whose watch-word was once ‘stability’ would take so long to return to its roots, with the arrival of Umberto’s son, Andrea, the last male member of the clan.

The masterstroke was, of course, bringing Antonio Conte back in to the fold. As a player, the battling midfielder may not have shined as brightly as the likes of Alex Del Piero and Zidane, but he was a guardian of the Juve flame and knew what values he needed to reinstall within the playing staff.

Not only are the team unbeaten in all competitions, with an Italian Cup Final to look forward to, but they have also set a club record 21 clean sheets. Victory was built from the back in the best traditions of Italian football, while sporting director Giuseppe Marotta enabled Conte to sprinkle the side with a few sparkling diamonds.

Andrea Pirlo must be in the running for the player of the year award, proving that Milan were mistaken in not offering the playmaker a further two-year deal, while Mirko Vucinic was ripe to show off his talents in a new environment.

A return to the Champions League opens a new chapter, but it also brings with it a new set of difficulties, as Milan found to their cost this season.

But the Old Lady has at least re-applied her foundation, and she is finally back in style.