Italian football isn't what it used to be. Serie A's top sides lag behind the rest of the European elite when it comes to spending power and attendances. Stadiums are old and uninviting, and are owned by local governments, meaning the teams themselves have little or no say in how they're run or redeveloped.
The same is true across the league ... except in Turin.
That city's footballing Goliath, Juventus, is bucking the trend. Coach Antonio Conte has one of the most exciting, well-balanced squads on the continent and the home ground is brand new—and always full.
The Juventus Stadium is also owned by the club, securing total control over a vital revenue stream in these economically chastened times. It is the result of measured, long-term planning—the previous structure on the site, the Stadio delle Alpi, was bought by the club in 2003—and sound investment.
The Bianconeri moved out of the dreadfully unpopular Stadio delle Alpi in 2006, in a move that was to be the first on a bright new path for the Old Lady, only to see the club fall on hard times first. The now infamous Calciopoli scandal saw Juve relegated following match-fixing convictions, but the fall from grace was only temporary and since their return to Serie A, the Bianconeri have been rebuilding and restructuring at all levels of the club.
The stadium was built at a cost of €120 million, at a time when other clubs around the continent might consider that kind of outlay on a single player's transfer and wages. And from that perspective, it offers insight into the real strengths of this new Juventus.
It was a sound investment. It secured revenue and offered new freedom to improve the ground as the club sees fit, and possibly to strike corporate rights deals on the back of it. It's value won't fluctuate depending on a good or bad season. It can't get injured, and it won't leave for new pastures.
In short, it's everything that a star signing isn't, and that's why it's the best money spent by an Italian football club in a very long time.
Of course, Juve have also built up a squad full of quality and shown support for Conte in his endeavours, but by focusing on the long-term interests of the club as a whole rather than just the short-term desires of a single football season, the board at Juventus have stolen a march on the competition.
Elsewhere in Italy, the opposition labour on in old grounds. The clubs are largely bankrolled by wealthy and often temperamental owners, who spend money as they see fit rather than as it's needed.
Of all Juve's rivals, perhaps only Roma are within touching distance in terms of the race for modernity. The Giallorossi are owned by an American conglomerate and Arab investors, all keen to bring the business model up to date, grow the brand and move the Lupi to a new stadium asap. But there's much work to be done in the capital first.
On the pitch, Juventus are already a rung above the rest. The current Scudetto holders—and leaders in the race for this year's title—went an incredible 49 games without losing, a testament not only to Conte's coaching prowess but also to squad unity and the team's strength in depth.
The roster at Juve is impressive for two reasons. First, there's real quality in every position, and often stiff competition for a starting place, particularly in midfield. And second, with the exception of perhaps Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, there's no superstar.
That remark is not meant as a slight on the quality of player at Juventus—far from it. There's no doubting the ability of Giorgio Chiellini or Mirko Vucinic, for example, but they are not celebrity players in the mould of David Beckham, Ronaldo or Mario Balotelli.
It's almost an old fashioned side, in so far as its success has come on the back of a lot of hard work and sensible player acquisitions that always serve to improve a position on the pitch rather than a profile off it.
Individual egos have no place in Conte's side, and no one is under any illusions as to who the boss is. In that sense, the former Bianconero midfielder ressembles another fiery coach, one who's been doing business in Manchester for a very long time.
Alex Ferguson's success at Old Trafford was built on strong foundations, laid by people who were thinking long term. The rest of Serie A should sit up and take notice, because that's exactly what they've been doing in Turin.
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