They were 45 minutes from history. At half-time of the Champions League final, the score was Juventus 1-1 Real Madrid. A strong second half performance was all that separated the Italians from their first ever treble.
The double, sealed weeks before, was their third in row. A record-breaking sixth consecutive Scudetto inspired a commemorative t-shirt and slogan #LE6END. After a decent showing in the first half in Wales, European glory felt eminently possible.
But, instructed by coach Zinedine Zidane to ‘get on top of’ the Bianconeri, the men in vivid purple blew their rivals away. They were light years ahead of Juve, dismantling Massimiliano Allegri’s side. Unthinkably brutal, it was a sight scarcely witnessed in Serie A.
The Spanish side’s three goal masterclass after the break stunned all of Italy. Juve, domestically as reliable as any team in any sport in recent years, were sent into shock. Some observers believe the deep mental damage will persist.
The fact they have now lost two Champions League finals in three years (seven in total), plus rumours of dressing room fracas in the Welsh capital, have given this pre-season a surreal, muted feeling.
Not long after their Saturday night trauma, stories of a confrontation between key players at half-time dominated chat among football fans. The club and squad members have denied it.
But whispers continue of a bust-up starring Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci and Paulo Dybala. Lurid accounts have been published then discredited. People at the final point out that Bonucci and Allegri were in amicable form on the pitch after the game (albeit disappointed).
Fans were still digesting the fall-out from their Euro collapse when the sale of idol Bonucci to AC Milan caught every one out. The tall, lean defender’s departure wasn’t such a surprise, though his destination was.
The conspiracy theorists have delighted in the fact that two of the men in the alleged rumble, Bonucci and Alves, have gone. The effervescent Brazilian left for PSG three weeks ago. ‘Boni’ needed a new challenge but wanted to keep his young family in Italy.
The chance to be captain of a new-look Milan was too good to turn down. £35m for a 30 year old convinced Juve top brass. Alves and Bonucci made huge contributions to last season’s domestic success. Indeed, they scored the goals in their team’s 2-0 win over Lazio in the Coppa Italia final.
But the pair represent the past. This season is year zero in a certain sense. All kits feature a new badge. The controversial but slick logo was designed for the smart-phone addicted social media generation and inspired by Japanese pop art.
And more importantly there are changes where it really matters: on the pitch. Allegri has welcomed four new recruits. Self-confident keeper Wojciech Szczesny signed from Arsenal and is likely to be the team’s Coppa Italia starter, biding his time in the league and Europe until Gianluigi Buffon retires after the 2018 World Cup.
Former Milan wonderkid Mattia De Sciglio fills the Dani Alves-shaped space on the right side of the defence. De Sciglio made a glorious start to Serie A life five years ago before losing focus and stalling.
Back under Allegri’s wing, his mentor at the San Siro, De Sciglio, 24, has youth on his side. The 31 cap international isn’t Dani Alves, but equally he’s not a bad as exaggerated comments from supporters would make you think.
But the real glitz is in the new arrivals further up the field. Flying winger Douglas Costa will add zip and drive on either flank, giving Allegri enviable options. Doubts over his tactical know-how and discipline linger, as is often the case when South Americans come to Serie A.
Brazilians haven’t always thrived with the Bianconeri. You can count their successful samba stars on one hand. In recent memory only classy centre-back Julio Cesar, round-shouldered midfield destroyer Emerson, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro cut the mustard in black and white. Both Milan clubs and Roma have had much more joy with the boys from Brazil.
JUVENTUS’S SUMMER TRANSFERS
Mattia De Sciglio
Paolo De Ceglie