In recent seasons, two of Europe’s most prestigious and titled clubs have gone on a parallel rollercoaster ride that has seen them fall down the pecking order of Europe’s elite. Liverpool FC and Juventus have hit rock-bottom and come back fighting and are both now set on a course to elbow their way back to where they so rightfully belong: amongst the front runners of the game both domestically and internationally.
Liverpool and Juventus share 45 domestic league titles, 27 national cups and 7 Champions League titles (plus 7 times runner-ups) between them! Their pedigree says it all, yet both clubs have gone throught traumatic times which dented their ability to enhance their tally of titles and their efforts to land more silverware have proven to be fruitless, a slow decline which has seen them not participating in the most lucrative and prestigious competition on the European stage, the UEFA Champions League.
They also share on of the biggest tragedies in world football when 39 fans died on the terraces of the Heysel. The tragedy created a spiritual bond between the two clubs, even though a large part of their fan-base remains unforgiving in our regard. Players that played for both clubs include Momo Sissoko, Christian Poulsen, more recently Alberto Aquilani and more notably Ian Rush!
Juve’s struggles began when they were stripped of two league titles and thrown mercilessly down to the second tier of Italian football, after the famous football fixing scandal. With the control of the Agnelli family ever-present (the legacy having begun in 1923), Juve won immediate promotion back to the Serie A in the 2006/07 season. Since then, the Bianconeri went through three Club Presidents and five managers in as many seasons. Finally, they seem to have found the right chemistry with young Andrea Agnelli at the helm, and Antonio Conte calling the shots in the dressing room. Conte has a no-nonsense and pretty pragmatic approach and he has literally ‘carta bianca’ on team matters. It was his veto that ultimately prevented Aquilani from making the move from Liverpool permanent. It was also his decision to send out the just signed Reto Ziegler on loan in the Turkish league because he ‘does no suit my style of play’. Brazilian born Amauri, who chose to play for Italy, is out of the squad because he refused a couple of transfer options. Ah and yes, lest I forget, Juve have their own Damien Comolli in Giuseppe Marotti, rated amongst the best sporting directors in the Serie A!
This approach is paying dividends on the pitch. They share top spot with Udinese and remain unbeaten in 5 games. Juve’s game plan never ends the way it starts, and this is because Conte morphs the set-up according to who is playing, and he has always used his three substitutions in an effort to secure the result and control the game.
Juventus have also inaugurated a new stadium this season. The Juventus Stadium (temporary name as the naming rights were sold to a marketing company which has not yet secured a deal with anyone) rose from the ashes of the much loathed Stadio delle Alpi and is the first club-owned Serie A stadium in Italy. Contrary to the current trend of increasing capacity, Juve opted to go for a boutique 41,000-seater stadium with a vast commercial operation all around it. It’s very much a Premier League-esque concept and has seen a packed house every time they played at home (Juve have the biggest fan-base in Italy but stadium attendance research indicated that this capacity was more than sufficient).
Liverpool’s struggle began with the arrival of the unmentionable H&G, the subsequent credit crunch and the fall in general enthusiasm and belief which had been so high in Rafa Benitez’s first few seasons. The rest of the story is known to all……! Today, the Reds are on the brink of finalizing plans which will enable 60,000 or more fans to attend their home games in a new or re-vamped venue. The arrival of John W Henry and the return of Kenny Dalglish have lifted the club from the quagmire of financial turmoil and competitive decline. The new owners have operated diligently and below the radar, and always kept a low profile, making small promises and always exceeding expectations (even though most of us had become so skeptical of promises made). Kenny has brought in belief; he has fostered motivation, and has instilled back the pride that had withered away. Ultimately, he also brought back a smile of everyone’s face. He is human, he does get it wrong now and again, but fortunately for us, this has now become the rare exception.
For both these great clubs, the parabola now is on the ascendency. There is financial, sporting and technical stability on which to start a fresh winning cycle. Both are aiming for top honours and both are craving Champions League football next season. With both Clubs out of European competition, the aim is to challenge domestically to re-ignite their European plans thus finding themselves back amongst the elite!