Belief. It’s an intangible quality of sport. The word is often assigned to teams battling in the doldrums of the game and whose clear fighting spirit seemingly compensates for a lack of ability.
In football context, teams who often punch above their weight are viewed as believers, but never sides who are destined for greatness.
In Juventus’s case, this is a proven club who have tasted greatness on countless occasions. Their trophy-room is glittered with silverware, with the pennants and iconic images acting as mere embellishments to the collection of trophies.
Thirty league titles, a combined sixteen Coppa Italia and Suppercopa trophies, three UEFA Cups and two Champions League crowns reside within its walls, and that is without making reference to the two UEFA Super Cups and solitary Cup Winners’ Cup.
Three of those 30 league titles have come since the Old Lady moved into her new state-of-the-arc stadium in 2011 and their 31st has become a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
The man who masterminded those three consecutive league titles, Antonio Conte, departed in the summer, but left with some large question marks surrounding his stint in charge.
Unquestionably, his achievements in the three year spell cannot be scoffed at. He arrived in Turin with Juventus languishing in seventh place and almost instantly restored the side to their previous domineering status.
Three league titles arrived in as many years and in his inaugural year as Juventus head coach he steered the side to an invincible season – the first since the introduction of a 38-game season. It was outwith Italian shores where Conte failed to make his mark, however.
Beating comprehensively in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2013 – to superior opponents, admittedly – the pressure only intensified in the following year when Juve were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition at the group stages.
And, to add insult to injury, their subsequent Europa League campaign came to an end at the semi-final stages, losing to Portuguese side Benfica over two-legs.
His tactics were scrutinised, the personnel was chastised and even the mentality of the squad came under fire. Were the Old Lady too dominant on the peninsula?
Fast forward nine months since Conte’s shock resignation and we arrive in Florence. The Bianconeri, managed by ostensible misfit Massimiliano Allegri, must overcome a 2-1 Coppa Italia semi-final deficit inflicted by a Mohamed Salah inspired Fiorentina side several weeks before.
The club last tasted Coppa Italia glory in 1995, bitterly missing out on a tenth crown in 2012 as they were defeated by Napoli. Squaring up to a Fiorentina team brimming with confidence and boasting one of the most in-form players in Serie A, Juve’s chances looked slender.
That was until Alessandro Matri prodded home with 21 minutes on the clock. Goals either side of half-time from Roberto Pereyra and Leonardo Bonucci sealed the Old Lady’s place in the Coppa Italia final.
The scoreline did, indeed, tell the whole story. Juventus were dominant from the get-go, and not for one minute after Matri’s opener did the Old Lady’s appear a side who didn’t have one foot in the final. “We believe we can win every game,” was the cry from goalscorer Bonucci post-match.”Treble? Why not dream?”
Granted, a third Champions League crown may appear a mere pipe dream when one takes into account the quality of the sides who remain in the competition, but this side laugh in the face of adversity. Allegri has inculcated a mentality into his group of players that has made them impervious to superiority.
Since the turn of the year their squad has been struck with the injury bug. Andrea Pirlo has not featured in the league since their 2-1 victory over Atalanta on February 20.
Paul Pogba, meanwhile, limped off of their Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund last month and is likely to miss the entire month of April. Even Martin Caceres has played his last game of the season after fracturing his ankle in training in March.
That is also without factoring in an ageing defence — Bonucci is the youngest member of their regular backline at 27 — a midfield without a fully functioning Arturo Vidal, perhaps still rehabilitating from his knee surgery last summer, and a strike force reliant on Carlos Tevez.
Yet the Old Lady have looked as reliant as ever.
Allegri has fluctuated between a back three and a back four yet still boasts the best defence in the division. Pereyra has proved a gem of an acquisition in midfield, tasked with supplementing Tevez and co. he has shouldered the creative burden with aplomb. And that is without extolling the efficiency of Tevez in attack.
Although he is certainly not getting any younger, his fitness levels have peaked and he is producing numbers that have not been seen since his debut season for Manchester City.
Assuming a creative role whilst simultaneously retaining his chief goalscoring responsibility, Tevez has single-handedly dragged the Bianconeri out of the mire in some instances.
Though his three-year stint did not come without its obstacles, Conte remained fortunate on the personnel front. Yet, hindered by injuries, post-World Cup blues and a side indoctrinated in a high-press, no-holds barred system, Allegri has managed to build on the foundations laid by his predecessor.
Domestically, Juve may be unable to match the 102 point feat set by Conte last season, but this season’s loss column reads one less than last.
Last year’s quarter-final Coppa Italia exit has been mitigated by their date with destiny in the competition in June and in Europe, where their credentials are truly assessed, a place in the last-four is within the realms of possibility barring a complete capitulation against an admittedly inferior side in Monaco.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t even think of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and holding the 17-point lead at this stage of the league,” said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon earlier in the season. “But the heritage of our club is to fight till the end, and it is in the part of our DNA.”
Truth be told, not even Allegri himself could have predicted such success in his first season. His new-found tactical nous has given his players the platform to take their game to the next level and they’ve grasped the opportunity.
Nothing tangible has been achieved yet, however, and his side’s grit will be put to the test over the coming months. One thing’s for sure, though, this side more than have the tools to do it.
As sporting icon Muhammed Ali once said: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”