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The Scudetto Race: A Tale of Two Clubs

With the race for the Scudetto down to just two clubs and six more games, I thought I would take a very brief look at the two clubs and see if we can decide who deserves to win. There is too much history and too many events and nuances to write in a single post, so I will focus on just a few points here. It’s a rivalry that is always heated, with both clubs emotionally invested well beyond the pitch.

"Italian Gothic" 
Special thanks to my Juventino half, Sposato al nemico, for this killer pic


Recent History
Both clubs have a storied history and have enjoyed a lot of success. Juventus have won 29 Scudetti, while Milan count their success more in their European and International titles. More recently, however, events have occurred that tested the levels of a once healthy rivalry. For Juventus, being the only club relegated in Calciopoli, the struggle to come back to winning ways has become seemingly more bitter the longer it has taken. Even more so over the past year when it was revealed that Milan was a club that should have been relegated perhaps even more so than Juventus with the evidence that was withheld back in 2006. To watch Milan only suffer a points deduction that was then reduced to allow them to play In Champions League that next season, which they then won, was hard enough. To watch Milan win a Scudetto before Juventus were back in the running must have been like being served vinegar to swallow the bitter pill with. And even though this was not Milan’s fault, very few Milanisti are even aware of any of this, let alone are they sensitive to these issues. And some who do know are purposely insensitive, highly unsporting.

But it’s not like Juventus fans are easy to love. Juventus have been fined at least 4 times now this season so far for racist chants from their fans, a barbaric practice that is slowly being eradicated from the game in most clubs. And despite the club taking a hard line and giving lifetime stadium bans, there are always more racist fans to replace them, this is not anything new. So other fans tried to drown it out this last time with whistles so they wouldn’t get fined, there will always be a next time. Their sense of entitlement is also a bitter pill to swallow, having watched them flog themselves and blame everyone in sight when losing and congratulate only themselves, and excessively so, when winning, even for poor performances or at the expense of the other teams’ errors. It wasn’t until recently that I realized why anyone would hate them enough to skew Calciopoli and wrongfully paint them as the biggest culprits. Not that this would ever be an excuse for that travesty, of course, but the club and fans do make it difficult to maintain a healthy and sporting respect with their entitled and elitist behaviors.


Nah, Allegri, bling doesn't make you cool.

Allegri’s Antics, The Cult of Conte
Massimiliano Allegri is anything but lovable. Confident perhaps beyond his abilities, yet very talented nonetheless. After winning back to back Panchina d’Oro awards for best coach in Serie A (as voted on by the other managers) while at Cagliari, he was a bit of a gamble for Milan. A gamble that paid dividends immediately by him leading Milan to a Scudetto in his first season at a big club. He has taken a squad full of overinflated egos and disciplinary issues and turned them into teammates who thrive together on and off the pitch. He has also managed epic injury crises both years with the club, even if some, including Berlusconi, are now questioning if it’s his training techniques and lack of squad rotation that are partially responsible for ridiculous quantities of injuries.  He has coached in three competitions both years, taking Milan to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League, further than any other Italian club this year. Yet after all of this and still being just one point behind Juventus in the league with six games left, rumors of him being sacked abound, particularly since exiting the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona. His relationship with certain players has been called into question, to which he will say there is not a problem. But the players rarely respond likewise. And while many coaches would love to have his problems (and his success,) it has certainly not been a picnic.


"I vant you all to spit blood!"

Ask a Juventino how they feel about Conte, and they will likely reply “In Conte We Trust.” Ask a rival fan how they feel about Conte, they will likely tell you that he is either feared or hated or both. He has a strong personality that can be polarizing, but this season, it has also been nothing short of inspirational for Juventus. Even with other factors, he has taken a club where morale had never recovered from 2006, having finished seventh for the last two years running, and turned them into the only undefeated team in Europe this season. He’s managed to increase their stamina, their skills, and their teamwork, but more importantly their belief in themselves. His personality is such that fans have reacted almost as if they were a cult. For example, he rarely played captain and club legend Del Piero, particularly after the club announced his contract would not be renewed. Yet fans would still say “In Conte We Trust.” He chose to start Milan and Roma reject Borriello repeatedly without result, which frustrated fans during the game, but only the players would be criticized after the game, never him. “In Conte We Trust.” Blame Marotta, blame Agnelli, blame the players, blame anyone and everyone else, but always trust Conte. A blind trust that is kind of frightening in a league that has nearly as many manager sackings this season as it has actual number of clubs, and in a culture that is known to never trust a manager and to always question. Of course, there was that four game streak of draws recently that had some calling for his head. But the 5-0 win over Fiorentina and subsequent winning streak has left fans fervently saying (or even shouting) “In Conte We Trust.”

Nothing short of miraculous.

Season of Miracles
As I touched on, Juventus have come from wallowing in seventh place self-pity, despite numbers of personnel changes since 2006, to top of the table and undefeated. They are also in the final for the Coppa Italia, so could still reach the domestic double. Bringing in some key players like Pirlo, Lichtsteiner, Vidal, and most recently Caceres has absolutely boosted their squad. Between Conte’s powerful influence and having a few more quality players, they boast the best defense in Italy, too. Also a big factor is the opening of their new stadium. Even just watching the opening ceremony, it was clear that a sense of pride and history was being restored that had perhaps gone missing on and off the pitch these past few years. And the advantage of having a smaller, but packed stadium, with the fans within reach of the pitch has buoyed them up more than once this season. I don’t believe it was any one factor, but rather all of these factors that have contributed to their miraculous comeback this season.

Milan’s theme, on the other hand has been one of overcoming obstacles that were out of their control. In the Champions League, they drew Barcelona twice, playing them 4 times out of only 10 Champions League matches. Plagued with injuries all season, many games saw them have 10+ players unavailable for callup, often a complete starting lineup or more. Two of those injuries brought perspective to the team and its fans. Cassano had a stroke on the plane home from Roma in October, and had to have heart surgery shortly thereafter to correct a previously undetected defect. Not only would he be lucky to play again, but he was lucky to be alive, as recent events attest. Gattuso also suffered a potentially career ending medical issue in an optic nerve problem that was then treated incorrectly for 4 months. That both players have recently returned to the pitch are miracles in and of themselves. But also that Milan have played on three fronts with the most injuries in Serie A and are still just one point away from Juventus is nothing short of miraculous.

The miracle of Life.

Awful Acrimony
It’s not hard to see that this was a rivalry that could easily go wrong. The turning point seemed to be when Conte and Juventus came out in the media pointing out a disparity in the number of penalties awarded the two clubs and questioning the referees, the league, and Milan. And despite the fact that none of Milan’s penalties have decided even a single game this year, it still remains an arguing point for Juve fans. This, despite the fact that not a single person has been able to point out to me a single credible penalty claim not given to Juve, let alone enough to make up the disparity between the two clubs (and I’ve seen every Juve match this year.) Also, it may have been more prudent for Conte and Juventus to simply point out their own lack of penalties to the league, not to the media, rather than finger point or claim favoritism publicly. And so ironic, too, as it was accusations of referee favoritism that brought them down in 2006, it all seems a bit hypocritical. Adding to this the claims of Chiellini and others that Ibra slapped Storari, even though neither Storari nor photographic and video evidence proved this claim, as well as other insults and fingerpointing from Conte and the club, it’s easy to see how things went awry from this side.

Not that Allegri or Milan took the high road. Allegri’s responses to Conte’s claims were to stop talking about the refs. And while they may have been well intended, sometimes unanswered claims carry the least weight. You don’t win a mudfight by slinging mud back. And you had to know that his attempts at taking the high road when it comes to referees decisions would eventually be his downfall, too. Not only when it came to Muntari’s disallowed goal, but other decisions that were difficult to take. And eventually, he and the club both did a complete about face and jumped deeper into the mire than anyone else, slinging more than just mud. Galliani wrote public letters. The AC Milan website posted ridiculous pictures. Unacceptable. Hypocritical. Shameful. In a few short weeks, the clubs went from healthy rivals to children fighting over who looked at whom. And there was blood on both clubs’ hands, no one could hold their heads high anymore.




Who Deserves to Win?
So who deserves the title? Off the pitch, perhaps neither club. But on the pitch, both clubs. Both Juventus and Milan have had miraculous seasons for different reasons. One team has more wins, the other has no losses. One team are the tops scorers, the other have conceded the least goals. One has a roster with few big names, the other a roster full of big names, but an infirmary full of bodies. One has a coach who managed to get further in the Champions League this year than the team had in the last 5 years, the other in his first year at a big club has taken an underperforming team to an undefeated season thus far. Both clubs have had amazing matches, both can also look back at missed opportunities. But more impressively, both clubs are still in the running. Respect.

Perhaps it is just my vantage point, that as a Milanista I also watch the joy and pain of every Juventus game on the face of someone I care about, instead of just typing the first thoughts that come to my mind on forums or other social media. But I think that we are kind of missing the point this season. Here we have two amazing clubs doing amazing things, both deserving of a title, but only one of them will win. With only six games left, let’s stop bickering and pointing fingers and enjoy the ride. Watch every game for both sides, and admire the talents and success of both teams. It’s been too long since we’ve both competed on such a high level, let's enjoy a healthy and sporting rivalry to the end. There may be tears of joy on one side and tears of pain on the other in the end, but at least we have one common place to focus our hatred: Inter. Watching them hopefully be completely dethroned this year can be our outlet for unsporting behavior. Let’s not waste it on each other.


This post inspired by the music of The Cure’s “Wish” album


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