Juventus’s relationship with it, on the other hand, is characterized by failure. Yes, it has twice been crowned champion of Europe, in 1985 and 1996. The number that fixates Juventus, though, is six: the number of finals the club has lost. To Ajax in 1973, Hamburg in 1983, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in quick succession in 1997 and 1998, to A.C. Milan on penalties in 2003, and then, two years ago, to Barcelona in Berlin.
That persistent disappointment has seeped into the very bones of the club. When its current coach, Massimiliano Allegri, replaced Antonio Conte in 2014, “there was this negative approach that scared me a lot,” he remembered.
Ever since, Allegri has tried to persuade everyone connected to Juventus that the club’s record should be a source of pride, rather than pain.
“I hear people saying that we have lost six finals,” he said. “That disturbs and annoys me. It is not that we have lost six finals. It is that we have played eight. It is not easy at all to make such an achievement.”
Much of Allegri’s work this past week has focused on encouraging his players to be “serene, to prepare without anxiety, to be optimistic.” He does not want that litany of disappointment to weigh on their minds; worse still, he does not want it to take on the aura of a curse.
He is resolutely, relentlessly positive. “Anxiety leads you to waste a lot of energy,” he said. “We want to face the coming week as if we are playing a normal match.”
Deep down, though, Allegri knows that it is anything but, that it is a game that might transform not only the way Juventus regards its past but fundamentally alter its future.
This is the other strand behind Juventus’s obsession with the Champions League: the sense that only by winning it can Juventus, now apparently the perennial champion of Italy, consider itself an equal of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the ranks of Europe’s modern superpowers.
It is no coincidence that the team Allegri will name on Saturday will include several players who were once standard-bearers for Juventus’s domestic rivals.
Higuaín, most notably, was acquired from Napoli for about 90 million euros last summer, only a few weeks after Miralem Pjanic, formerly of Roma, had moved to Turin. This was not by chance; it was a deliberate policy, strengthening Juventus’s hand while weakening a rival that might challenge its hegemony.
They are not the only ones: Juan Cuadrado came from Chelsea, but he had made his name at Fiorentina. Medhi Benatia is remembered more for his time at Roma than his spell at Bayern Munich. Paulo Dybala joined from lowly Palermo, but by acting decisively, Juventus deprived Napoli, in particular, of the opportunity to add the 23-year-old striker.
Overseen by the sporting director Giuseppe Marotta, it is an Italian version of the transfer strategy that Bayern Munich has deployed to great success, continually stripping would-be contenders of their best players.
It is designed to ensure that Juventus remains unassailable at the summit of Serie A, and has sufficient resources to focus all its energies on the Champions League.
So far, the plan has worked. Juventus has won six straight Serie A championships, a run unmatched in Italian history. It is also starting to make its presence felt in the Champions League, with trips to the final in 2015 and 2017 and a narrow elimination by Bayern in between.
“After two years, we are not in the final again by chance,” defender Giorgio Chiellini said this week.
It is, instead, the product of forensic planning. Much of the team that took to the field in Berlin two years ago is gone now. Of Allegri’s likely starting lineup on Saturday, Alex Sandro, Pjanic, Dani Alves, Dybala and Higuaín have joined Juventus within the last two years.
Juventus cannot compete with the glamour of Barcelona and Madrid or the financial firepower of the Premier League — witness Paul Pogba’s move from Turin to a Manchester United team that had not even qualified for the Champions League. But it can continually reinvent itself, cherry-picking talent from the rest of Serie A to ensure it can compete on the bigger European stage.
Juventus does not intend to stop there. The final in Cardiff, Wales, like the one in Berlin, is a chance to take the next step. Allegri contends that reaching two finals in quick succession has given Juventus “great visibility.” Chiellini is convinced that “in the next two or three years, we should always be able to be present at this international level.”
“The direction — and I want to stress that it is the people within the club who are mainly responsible for it — is that we can have an ambition to play an important international role with great continuity,” he added.
The aim, though, has never been merely to stand among Europe’s superclubs, but to stand out from them. To do that, Juventus needs to add to its two Champions League titles. Allegri knows that his players have to be “calm, determined and balanced” to do that, despite the occasion. “There is only one Super Bowl,” he said.
Chiellini would add an extra ingredient. “You need a bit of luck, yes,” he said. Juventus knows that only too well. It has been deprived of it often enough. The club has done all it can to turn that tide. Now, it is up to the players.
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