Welcome back Juventus, we have missed you.
For those of us of a certain age, the recent resurgence in the Uefa Champions League of a giant of European football has brought back happy memories.
Your football education in Abu Dhabi in the late 1970s and early ’80s meant supporting Liverpool, Manchester United and, for the brave few, Arsenal.
Then about 30 years ago, across the Middle East, Serie A became the first top European league to be broadcast live into our homes.
After Italy’s World Cup triumph in 1982, Juventus held the promise of something exotic, something different. They were the Harlem Globetrotters of European football, a team of Galacticos 20 years before the word was even invented.
Domestically, Juventus have been unstoppable for the past few years, securing their fourth consecutive Serie A title on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Sampdoria. Their record of 31 league titles is 13 more than that of their closest challengers AC Milan.
Yet since losing the 2003 Champions League final to Milan, they have all but disappeared as a European force.
Few would have predicted that 20 years ago, when Juventus reached three consecutive Champions League finals from 1996-98.
Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea, Antonio Cabrini, Marco Tardelli and Paolo Rossi, all World Cup winners with Italy, as well as France’s Michel Platini and Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek, arguably their countries’ greatest players, became household names here. All started the 1982/83 European Cup final against Hamburg.
On May 25, 1983, we tuned in for a coronation but the European kings-elect did not show up, Hamburg winning 1-0.
Two years later, Juventus earned another chance to win Europe’s premier club competition for the first time.
The 1985 European Cup final should have been the greatest day in Juventus’s history, instead it turned into the worst, their 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels forever marked with the most tragic of asterisks.
In the years after that day when 39 fans perished and 600 were injured, the club drifted. By the time Juventus began to recover in the early ’90s, Italian football, and many fans here, had moved on.
But a saviour was soon to emerge in Roberto Baggio. For the first time since Platini, Juventus could claim to have the best player in the world.
Baggio was unstoppable in 1992/93, leading Juventus to a Uefa Cup triumph and claiming both the European and Fifa world-player-of-the-year awards.
Yet by the time the club was back, in the new Champions League format, in 1995/96, Marcelo Lippi had replaced Baggio with the brilliant Alessandro del Piero.
Vindication came in what the club’s fans see as their “first real” European Cup win in front of what amounted to a home crowd at Rome’s Stadio Olympico. There was hardly a dry eye as Juventus finally laid the ghost of Heysel to rest by beating Ajax on penalties in the 1996 final.
Once again the world looked theirs for the taking. Once again, Juventus dodged glory.
The club became the first to reach three finals in the Champions League era but a 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund in Munich (1997) and a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid at Amsterdam (1998), means they remain the only club in the competition’s 59-year history to lose two consecutive finals.
The club’s capacity to self-destruct was evident again when a 3-2 loss to a Roy Keane-inspired Manchester United confirmed a 1999 Champions League semi-final exit when a fourth successive final looked in sight.
Since 2003, Juve have tried to re-establish their place in the Champions League, with little success.
There is hope again now and should Massimiliano Allegri’s team overcome the competition’s most successful club, Real Madrid, Juventus fans can, for the first time in a generation, dream again of ruling Europe.
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