As at most matches, the announcement of the visiting team’s starting XI is almost always roundly booed or whistled at Juventus Stadium. Yet as the Bianconeri warmed up before their Serie A clash with Cagliari on Wednesday evening, that was certainly not the case.
It started as a low rumble of anticipation following the name of goalkeeper Marco Storari, the noise continuing to grow as the rest of the teamsheet was read aloud, the likes of Bruno Alves and Joao Pedro ignored by the almost capacity crowd.
Then it happened. “No. 20: Simone Padoin.” A huge cheer went round the stadium, the veteran midfielder getting the kind of reception normally reserved for a returning hero. Yet even when Arturo Vidal visited Turin with Bayern Munich last season, he was not given the same treatment.
Essentially, this is the strange phenomenon a journeyman player sparked among fans of the Old Lady, an internet meme in human form. Padoin has never been remotely close to being a star player, but Juventus fans across the globe recognise his approach, professionalism and dedication.
The Italian moved on this summer, joining Cagliari after the Sardinian club secured their promotion to Serie A, recognising he would have no place in Massimiliano Allegri’s squad as the Bianconeri hierarchy placed even more talent at the coach’s disposal.
“Many squad players before him have left the club barely noticed, but Padoin left Juve as a cult hero,” one supporter told Bleacher Report. “During his five seasons at the club, he was often used as the measuring stick when talk of increasing the squad's quality was bought up.“
It seems the club took the same approach, constantly adding players who were better than Padoin until the man himself was surplus to requirements. Looking at his career before he joined the Bianconeri is a study in mediocrity, the Friuli native joining the Atalanta academy as a youngster only to be sent to Vicenza while still a teenager.
Over 100 Serie B appearances for the Biancorossi followed, Padoin maturing into a hardworking and consistent midfielder who knew his limitations and strived to play within them. He returned to Atalanta in 2007, playing over 150 games as the club bounced between the top two divisions.
That included the 2009/10 campaign, when a certain Antonio Conte took charge of the club for a brief stint. The coach was clearly impressed by Padoin’s effort and tactical discipline.
Perhaps spotting something of his own playing style in his willingness and gritty determination, Conte asked Juventus to bring Padoin to Turin in January of 2012, just six months after he had taken his place on the bench of his former club.
Juve’s official website revealed they paid £4.2 million to do so (h/t Stefan Coerts of Goal, via Yahoo Sports), and he would act as the fourth-choice midfielder behind Claudio Marchisio, Vidal and Andrea Pirlo as the Bianconeri ended a six-year Scudetto drought.
Completing the campaign without a single league defeat, he made just six Serie A appearances as the club focused on becoming champions once again. The following season saw a return to European competition, meaning the reserve players would see more action, and Padoin featured in 26 games.
Often seen as below the required standard, he also learned to play in a new role, filling in as a wing-back whenever Conte needed to shore up the defence. Rarely venturing forward, he applied himself diligently to the task, and as he became a multiple-time Scudetto winner, he slowly began to garner appreciation among supporters.
Various memes began cropping up on Twitter, such as the one above showing him as a Ballon d’Or winner, while his nickname of Lord Padoin became more and more popular. He was often cited in attacks on other clubs, comparing his number of Serie A title wins (five) with players such as Francesco Totti (one) and Diego Maradona (two).
It was a truly strange phenomenon, but it never showed signs of slowing down, with fans at the 2015 Supercoppa Italiana in Shanghai taking it to a new level. “Who needs Ronaldo? We’ve got Padoin,” they sang, much to the embarrassment of the Juventus midfielder, who never seemed comfortable with the added attention.
As he helped the club clinch a fifth successive title last season, he became one of only eight players—beside Gigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Martin Caceres, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Marchisio—who had been with Juventus for that entire run.
Delivering the trophy to the Juventus museum and that moment in Shanghai were two he looked back on most fondly, as the man himself explained in an interview shortly after his move to Cagliari was announced back in June.
“Handing over the Scudetto trophy with those I’ve played alongside for the past five years was also a fantastic moment,” Padoin told JTV (via the club’s official website). “I’ll also never forget the fans’ chant for me, something unexpected that made me happy. Thank you, Juventus fans.”
Those in the stands every week still seem unable to fully explain their strange bond with a player who made 47 of his 84 Serie A appearances with Juventus from the bench.
Nate, a lifelong Juventus supporter, gave his opinion on the cult figure to Bleacher Report after watching his return to Turin with Cagliari: "Padoin became something of a Juve meme, compared to Lionel Messi as the No. 1 challenger for the Ballon d'Or each season. Even in his farewell letter, he explained that he felt a little ashamed by the fans' compliments as he felt he didn't deserve them.
"Although it was all in good humour, it stemmed from a genuine affection the fans had for him, as he was a loyal servant for the club. Padoin went about his business without any fuss or complaint and was always ready when called upon like a true soldier."
That is the crux of what Padoin was to the club and its fanbase: a loyal fighter who never gave less than 100 percent, even when his best wasn’t good enough. The letter Nate referred to was published on Padoin's wife’s Instagram account, as the player does not have any social media accounts of his own.
It was a lengthy goodbye to everyone he had crossed paths with at Juve, thanking team-mates past and present, the staff and coaches who had helped him before finally bidding farewell to supporters with his usual self-deprecating modesty
“And thank you to all the fans who, in these years, let me feel their support and personally appreciated me despite the fact my qualities are mediocre for the Juventus level,” Padoin wrote (h/t Football Italia). “But they realised that on every occasion I tried to honour the shirt by giving my all.”
Those who cheered for him were not the only ones to recognise his impact, however, with a number of Juve players taking to various social media platforms in order to wish him the best for the future.
The most notable perhaps came from Leonardo Bonucci, who wrote on his Instagram account that Padoin was a great player and a great man, crediting him with setting the example everyone else followed.
Coach Allegri joined the chorus of well-wishers, the tweet below noting Padoin “gave everything and more” to the Juve cause, something that nobody who watched the Bianconeri in recent years could deny.
Padoin arrived at Juventus as an average midfielder and left as virtually the same player five years later. In between, however, he won over an entire fanbase and gave birth to a strange legend that will live on for years. Grazie, Pado!