Throughout football history, Juventus have always been one of the greatest and most prominent clubs in Europe, arguably the best in Italy. However, when compared to the rest of Europe’s elite, they have historically underperformed in the continent’s most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League, winning it only twice, with the most recent being well over two decades ago. So why is that? Why does Juventus, one of the strongest teams in the world, have trouble capturing the European crown? Well, unfortunately for the Bianconeri fans, the answer to that question is long and complicated. But to fully understand Juve’s predicament, one must look back at their recent history.
The story begins that last time Juventus won the Champions League, and the only time they won the tournament in the current format, in 1996 when Marcello Lippi’s Juventus side overcame Louis van Gaal’s Ajax via penalty shootout. This final was actually the first in a string of three Champions League finals which Juventus reached from 1996 to 1998. However, they lost the other two to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, respectively.
Over the next few seasons, Juventus would continue on as one of the best teams in both Italy and Europe. They even made the 2003 Champions League Final but they narrowly lost to Italian rivals, Milan after a penalty shootout. Even though they lost these finals, they still proved their European pedigree by making it that far. In 1997, Borussia Dortmund thoroughly outplayed Juventus, beating them 3-1 with their victory never in doubt. However, the 1998 Final was much different. Both Real Madrid and Juve were able to match each other’s might but neither team dominated. It was only a lone goal from Predrag Mijatovic that won the match for Real Madrid, but it must be said that the goal was shrouded in controversy and most likely would have been ruled offside in today’s game. As for the 2003 Final, the match was also very tight between Milan and Juventus with both choosing to defend more than attack. After a 0-0 scoreline, Milan eventually won on penalties but it should be noted that Juventus was without their star player, Pavel Nedved, through yellow card suspension, and in the penalty shootout, video replays later showed that Milan’s goalkeeper, Dida, was unlawfully off his line when he saved David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero’s penalties.
So while Juve fans were justifiably angry that they just lost three Champions League Finals in seven years, one could also make the argument that they were extremely unlucky to lose the 1998 and 2003 Finals. And again, by simply making it to the final, Juve proved that they are one of the dominant teams in Italy. However, everything would change in 2006.
When the 2006 Calciopoli Scandal was discovered, the entire world of football was shaken to the core. Through tapped phone calls, it was found that several of Italy’s top teams had bribed referees among other offenses. Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina were all handed strong punishments but Juventus suffered the worst, being stripped of their 2004/05 and 2005/06 Serie A titles while also being forcibly relegated to Serie B, Italy’s second tier of football. With this relegation, star players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Vieira, Adrian Mutu, Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson all left the club, and Juventus’ reputation along with Italy football in general, was tarnished forever. While Juventus would easily get promoted back to Serie A next season, it would take them about six years to fully become a force in Italy again and over a decade to retain their spot as a top club on the European stage. Some would even argue that Juventus still have never completely recovered from the Calciopoli Scandal to this day in 2021.
After a string of disappointing seasons in Italy, Juventus turned a new leaf with Andrea Agnelli as their new chairman in 2010. This would be the turning point for the Bianconeri. When Antonio Conte was appointed head coach a year later, the future planning paid off. Despite not having a deep or excessively talented squad, Conte did what he does best and got the best out of his players. Juventus would go on to win the 2011/12 Serie A title, going undefeated the entire season, an Italian record. Juve would also comfortably win the Scudetto in the next few seasons, but while they were untouchable in Italy, this did not fully transfer over on the European stage.
Returning to the Champions League in 2012/13, La Vecchia Signora deservedly made a deep run to the quarterfinals. Up until this point though, Juve had faced relatively easy opposition, so when they lined up against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, it was a hard wake-up call for the Italian champions. Bayern who would go on to win the tournament easily brushed aside Juve 4-0 on aggregate. The next season was even worse as Juventus was embarrassingly eliminated in the group stage. Antonio Conte made Juve’s problems very clear, they gave him enough money to win Serie A, but not nearly enough to take this team to the next level, European glory. Encountering these frustrations as well as a vacant spot as the manager of the Italian National Team, Conte left and was replaced by Massimiliano Allegri in 2014.
With Allegri though, clear progress was made in Europe. Juventus in 2014/15 had a perfectly balanced squad with veterans like Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, players in their prime like Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal as well as young talents like Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata. With this team, Juve soldiered on to the 2015 Champions League Final surprisingly. While they did have an easy run to the semifinals in all fairness, they proved their credibility by defeating Real Madrid, the defending champions. And while they eventually lost 3-1 to Barcelona in the Final, there was a clear plan for the future, not to mention there is no shame in losing to Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez-era-Barcelona.
The next season, Juve faltered a bit, getting eliminated by Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. But again, Bayern was arguably the best team in the world at that time, besides Barcelona. And Juve did not exactly rollover either, coming back from behind to bring the tie to extra time, losing 6-4 on aggregate in the end.
But with that result, Juve put all their eggs in the basket looking ahead to the 2016/17 Champions League title, spending big in the transfer window on Gonzalo Higuaín, Miralem Pjanic, Dani Alves and Medhi Benatia. The plan seemed to be working perfectly as Juve steamrolled all opposition, winning both Serie A and the Coppa Italia. In the Champions League, it was more of the same. With a brick wall defense, Juve conceded only three goals the entire tournament before the final, but up top, they were very clinical scoring when necessary, as evidence in their 3-0 revenge victory over Barcelona.
When they journeyed on the 2017 Champions League Final, only one obstacle stood in their way, Real Madrid. Billed as the best attack vs the best defense in Europe, it was a match worthy of the occasion. Despite starting on the front foot, Juve found themselves behind after Cristiano Ronaldo’s counterattack goal. But Mario Mandzukic equalized with an outrageous overhead kick. Going into the second half, things were looking good for Juve, but all that optimism would go out the window as a Ronaldo-inspired Madrid side took their game to a whole other level, smashing Juve’s normally indestructible defense. The match ended 4-1 and Juve was left broken mentally as all that hard work still was not enough.
In the following season, Allegri and his men were able to regroup and try again, but the magic of the previous year was not there. Despite that, they still did just enough to top Napoli for the Serie A title and they went through the Champions League even without playing that well. In the quarterfinals though, they were drawn against a familiar foe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid. The first leg in Turin, Italy was a strange game. Overall, Juve were arguably the better team, but with Ronaldo putting his team on his back, he led Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory, scoring twice and assisting the third. The second goal of his being the famous bicycle kick that left Juve defender, Andrea Barzagli to shake his head in disbelief and even the Juventus fans to give a respectful round of applause.
Juve were not out just yet and heading into the second leg in Madrid, they looked to achieve the impossible. Exposing Real Madrid’s defensive weaknesses, Mandzukic scored twice early on before Blaise Matuidi’s poach brought the score equal 3-3 on aggregate. With the momentum in Juve’s favor, it looked like only a matter of time before they grabbed the winner. But then suddenly, Real Madrid were awarded a penalty in the last minute. None other than the Portuguese superstar himself stood up to take it, before perfectly slotting into the net, sending the Spanish champions into the semifinals.
Juve fans were devasted. Even more so as Real Madrid would end up winning the Champions League yet again. In the 2017/18 season, the other semifinalists were Roma who only got there after a shock result vs Barcelona, a still-maturing Liverpool, and an unorganized Bayern team. If Real Madrid had been eliminated by Juventus, there was a good chance that they would have ended up champions themselves. But yet again, Cristiano Ronaldo was the only thing standing in-between Juventus and the crown of Europe.
With that in mind, Juventus did the unthinkable in the summer of 2018. After he had already achieved everything possible in Madrid, Juve were able to convince Ronaldo to join their ranks, signing him for 100 million Euros in a blockbuster deal. While it took him a few games to adjust to the Italian game, it was only a matter of time for Ronaldo to start wheelbarrowing in the goals like usual.
But while Ronaldo himself was doing all he could, the supporting cast started to slack behind. In the 2018/19 Champions League, Juve topped their group despite several odd results. In the Round of 16 though, Atlético Madrid expertly defeated Juve 2-0 in the first leg. Thankfully for the Bianconeri, Ronald did what he was bought for and scored a hattrick in the return leg, sending Juve to the quarters where they would face a young and exuberant Ajax side. While Ronaldo would score two goals over the two legs, Juve would eventually lose 3-2 on aggregate after their arrogance let Ajax slip through. Yet again, the Italian giants stumble on the biggest stage.
After his relationship with the club and the fans went sour, Allegri stepped down opening the hot seat for Maurizio Sarri, who switched up Juve’s style by adding his own signature flair. Unfortunately for Juventus fans, things only regressed from there as the Bianconeri lost the Coppa Italia Final and just won Serie A by the skin of their teeth. All of that would’ve been forgiven had Juve won the Champions League though, but sadly that would go belly-up as well. After a decent group stage, Juve was drawn against Lyon, a much weaker opponent. However, with Juve’s sluggish play, the underestimation of Lyon and Lyon hitting great form at the best time of the season saw Juve lose on away goals. Ronaldo scored two beautiful goals once again, but it was not enough.
After the fallout of the Lyon match, Sarri was sacked. The Juventus board gambled and appointed former player, Andrea Pirlo as head coach, in what would be his first-ever job in management. While Pirlo no doubt has the potential to be a world-class coach, this season would inevitably be a transitionary one as Pirlo finds his feet. Unsurprisingly taking time for Pirlo to mold the team into his image, Juve’s form has suffered in some ways and it looks certain they will not win Serie A, breaking their nine-title streak. In the Champions League, it was almost an exact repeat as Juve were not amazing in the group stage, but good enough to top their group. Drawing Porto, another weaker opponent in the Round of 16, many thought Juventus would rewrite the wrongs of last season. Instead, Porto played wonderfully and Juve played poorly. After a 2-1 loss in Portugal, the Italian side had all the work to do at home, and in a crazy game from minute one to 90, Porto did just enough to overcame their opponents on away goals with a 4-4 aggregate score.
So whether it be the Calciopoli Scandal, Cristiano Ronaldo, poor planning, new managers coming in, or just plain bad luck, Juventus have continued on this painstaking journey for European glory, much to the joy of their Italian rivals. They have come ever-so-close on numerous occasions, but ultimately close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades as the famous saying goes.
On a positive note though, not all looks bad for Juventus going forward as Andrea Pirlo’s plan for his new team begins to unfold. Hopefully, for their fans, Pirlo, who won the Champions League twice as a player, will provide the missing piece to the puzzle and help Juve take the crown.