On May 22nd 1996, Juventus overcame tournament favourites Ajax on penalties to win their second ever European Cup in one of the greatest finals ever seen in the competition.
More than 50,000 Juve supporters packed in to see them crowned European champions that night, but 23 years, 18 Champions League campaigns and five finals later, the Old Lady have not tasted European glory since.
That wait will end in 2020.
At the time of his signing last summer, Cristiano Ronaldo had just come off the back of three straight European triumphs with Real Madrid, and spending €100m on the Portuguese forward was a not-so-subtle way of saying ‘please, please, please go and win us a Champions League.’
Whilst Ronaldo was unable to deliver on that front, his signing has come to massively benefit the club in a way which they may not have foreseen, as the Portuguese forward’s mere presence has proved a very attractive proposition to Juve’s transfer targets this summer.
Along with Aaron Ramsey and Gianluigi Buffon, the Frenchman was signed as a free agent following the expiry of his contract with Paris Saint-Germain. Free agents of this calibre will always attract interest from a number of clubs due to the low-cost, low-risk nature of the deal and convincing these players to pick Juve over rival bidders would have been considerably harder without Ronaldo.
This appears to be no different with the Old Lady’s pursuit of Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt. The Dutch defender appears to be edging towards a deal with the Turin club, despite significant interest from the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City.
And it is with this signing, presuming it goes through, that Juve must become favourites for the 2019/20 Champions League.
Aged just 19, De Ligt led Ajax to the Champions League final four, dominating in defence and scoring key goals in both the quarter-final and semi-final stages. He followed that up with an UEFA Nations League final appearance with the Netherlands, where he ultimately lost to Ronaldo’s Portugal side. And n
The continued chase of De Ligt is not to say Juve are satisfied with their options going forward, as they continue to be linked with a move for Inter’s Mauro Icardi. The Argentine recently left the club’s training camp and his exit appears to be imminent. Should Juve manage to sign the wantaway striker, you may as well start inscribing their name on the Champions League trophy now.
Despite winning them five straight Serie A titles, manager Massimiliano Allegri paid the price for continued European failure, as he lost his job at the Allianz Stadium in May. Juve decided to replace one Italian with another, recruiting Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, who had just tasted European success of his own with the Londoners, albeit in the Europa League.
The Italian manager split opinion during his time in England, with many highlighting his tactical rigidity as a downfall of his managerial regime. In particular, his refusal to play N’Golo Kante in his natural central defensive midfield role was a stick that was repeatedly used to beat him.
In spite of his failure to win a trophy in Italy, the style of play employed by Sarri during his time in Naples attracted praise from all across European football. Following Napoli’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola was full of praise for his opposite number, claiming the Italians were ‘maybe the best’ side he has ever faced.
English football is not renowned for tactical nous, so perhaps Sarri did not have enough time to fully implement his ideas at Chelsea. After all, even Guardiola finished third in his maiden Premier League campaign.
But if his time in Naples is anything to go by, Juve will be playing a high-pressing system next season, with an emphasis on passing football and confidence to play under pressure. A system under which Juve’s world-class talents are bound to flourish.
And for these reasons, we may as well say hello to the 2020 Champions League winners, Juventus.