It is a logo that is easily recognisable around the world. A kit that has been worn by children from across all walks of life. They are a club that is renowned throughout Europe due to the continued success that they have amassed during their storied history, including 34 Italian titles and two European Cups. Juventus are a club associated with the elite of football.
Despite the success, their owners, the Agnelli industrial family, were not content with Juventus’s place at the top of Italian football. They aspired for a far higher goal; being recognised alongside European powerhouses Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United. The modern Juventus Stadium was built for the 2011-12 stadium, creating a home for the Old Lady that reflected the direction in which they wanted to head.
High-profile players, the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Cristiano Ronaldo, arrived, burgeoning talents developed, Paul Pogba most notably, and legends such as Gianluigi Buffon remained. Juventus’ plan to reach the top step of the European footballing hierarchy was clear.
And yet, even with the modernisation of the facilities and structure of the club, Juventus, and perhaps more broadly Italian football, are a club stuck living with the ideals of a previous time. The arrival of Ronaldo was met with huge hope from the Bianoconeri fans, hope that one of the most talented footballers to play the game could finally end their 23-year wait for a Champions League triumph.
Shortly after his arrival on Italian shores, German newspaper Der Spiegel published its story on the newly reopened case against the Portuguese man, the case of his alleged rape of Kathryn Mayorga back in 2009. Juventus’s response? A simple tweet highlighting the professionalism with which Ronaldo had trained since joining them.
Fast forward a few short months and a new star, Moise Kean, starring for both club and country at just 19 years of age, spent much of an away match at Cagliari being the subject of abhorrent racist abuse from the home fans.
After scoring the second goal in a 2-0 victory, Kean stood with his arms outstretched in front of the home fans, a show of restrained defiance in the face of the kind of abuse no one should ever face. The response of his manager Massimiliano Allegri and senior player Leonardo Bonucci was simple. Lay some, or half, in Bonucci’s case, of the blame at the feet of Kean for his celebration.
Both stories are completely different incidents, just as awful as each other, and represent the sorry state that society still exists in, despite constant self-reassurances that we live in 2019 or we are better now or in this country.
The one singularity that exists between both cases is the apathy with which Juventus have responded, a simple disassociation from being any part of either the problem or solution. The incidents serve to prove that Juventus might be modernising their infrastructure but they are still bound by old-fashioned leaders and beliefs.
This is not to suggest that Juventus, Italian football or simply football generally are the only responsible parties within the sporting world. Every single sporting establishment, either a league or a club within that league, has been a part of this societal problem.
As Maryam Naz, recently discussed for Breaking the Lines the similarities that exist between the Ronaldo case and that of Kobe Bryant’s, one of the National Basketball Association’s greatest stars, is striking. And recently, racist incidents regarding one of England’s best players in Raheem Sterling have created media headlines, coming both at club and international level.
It will always be important to remember that these issues are not limited to specific clubs, leagues or even sports. These are issues that have permeated every level of society and before sport can be truly rid of these antiquated ideas, society itself needs to be educated.
What is perhaps most disturbing about the specific cases involving Juventus is the seeming lack of morality that is being exhibited by the club and those employed within it towards these issues. As mentioned earlier, the official club response to the allegations made against Ronaldo was to simply remind everyone that this was an incident that had happened ten years previously. The Juventus tweet simply read:
In producing a statement of this regard, Juventus all but confirmed that their primary concern in regards to the allegations was protecting their commercial investment. Having agreed to pay Real Madrid €112 million over two years in order to bring Ronaldo to Turin, the hope was that Ronaldo’s brand would help to bring in more revenue whilst simultaneously helping to grow the Juventus image in the lucrative American and Asian markets.
The decision to bring Ronaldo to the club was designed with this idea in mind, alongside finally winning a third Champions League title, and the damaging allegations being laid at his feet threatened to bring a premature end to the long-term plan that the Old Lady had in place prior to this season.
It was not just the Italian club’s reaction that has helped pave the way for the headlines regarding the case to drift away from the spotlight. As in any case of this nature, a significant number of the comments in response to any written opinion about it is met with a string of insults about the victim, and those are the ones that are probably the kindest of all. Frequent threats, verbal attacks, and truly vile comments are commonplace across the social media reaction, an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age in which we live.
Whilst people may believe in Ronaldo’s innocence, which they have every right to, the response seemingly indicates a sheer denial of even being willing to acknowledge that there is any possible fault to be placed at the footballer’s feet. As Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of the game they love, he is seemingly, in the eyes of many, above the law and can live his life consequence free.
As more and more clubs attempt to build their image in other parts of the world, the International Champions Cup has grown in popularity each year since its inception. Pitting some of Europe’s best against each during pre-season, the American and Asian markets get to experience these games first-hand.
For Juventus, that has often meant a visit stateside, with three of their previous four outings in the competition taking place in North America. This upcoming pre-season, however, the club has instead opted to take part in the Asian leg of the tournament.
It may well be a case of the club opting to build on their presence within the Asian market and explore a different avenue within the competition. The decision must be met with a degree of cynicism with the cloud of the Ronaldo case hanging over their heads.
With the Las Vegas Police Department attempting to acquire Ronaldo’s DNA, any arrival of his onto American soil could immediately be met with detention, a flaw in Juventus’s plan to bring as many people to the matches as possible. The two events may be entirely coincidental, but the choice leaves a bad taste in the mouth. A choice that suggests Juventus are choosing commercial interests over human protection.
Italian football has become almost synonymous with horrific fan behaviour, primarily coming in the form of racist chanting aimed at black players. In 2017, Sulley Muntari was subjected to a string of racist chants and was met with a yellow card to his name when alerting the referee to the issue. A year later, Juventus’s Blaise Matuidi was also subjected to similar chants. And these two incidents are just two examples from the same set of fans, those of Cagliari.
Skip ahead another year, to the match between Cagliari and Juventus at the start of April 2019 and the chants could once again be heard, although this time directed at Juventus starlet Moise Kean. Kean’s response was to simply keep playing his game, score the second goal, and celebrate by staring down those hurling the abuse his way. A pretty restrained reaction all things considered.
Kean’s actions have engendered support from the majority of his fellow professionals with Raheem Sterling, Mario Balotelli, and Borussia Dortmund all tweeting or Instagramming their support for the youngster. The response from his team-mates manager and club, those who are supposed to have his back at all times, was dismaying, to say the least.
Maybe Bonucci or Allegri did not hear the initial chanting that caused Kean to celebrate the way he did, but even if that is true, no player celebrating scoring a goal should become the victim of abuse, of any kind. Celebrating a goal against your opponents is never a valid reason for a personal attack on any player. Besides, Bonucci, he who ran across to taunt the Juventus fans when scoring against them for AC Milan, is hardly the champion for being respectful towards the opposing set of fans.
To suggest that Kean is “50-50” to blame alongside the Cagliari fans for being the victim of racist abuse is about as backward a viewpoint as they come. The lack of support from his teammates and manager must leave Kean feeling in a truly lonely place, despite the support from fellow professionals across the continent.
Once again, Juventus proved that they have no real interest in being a part of the solution to these societal ills that plague our world still. In their summary of the game, there is not a single mention of the incident having even taken place. It may be understandable, albeit wrong, had it been their own supporters racially abusing an opposing player and they chose to ignore that fact, but to not come to the defence of your player in the face of racist chanting aimed their way simply serves to highlight the apathy with which the club clearly view these pressing issues.
The problem is not to be placed solely at the feet of Italian clubs, with notable incidents happening within the English game earlier this season. Manchester City’s Sterling has increasingly become the target for these slurs, an experience he felt most strongly in games against Chelsea and Montenegro for club and country respectively.
The key difference between these incidents and the one felt by Kean recently is the support network placed around the player. There was nothing but condemnation from those involved in the game towards the individuals who shouted the abuse to the player. It obviously does not help make the incident less horrific for the player involved, but there is a least a sense that they will be supported as those around them can see the difference between right and wrong.
And perhaps that is the issue that currently faces Juventus. As a forward-thinking club that has aspirations to firmly place themselves amongst the select few that can truly call themselves global powerhouses, Juventus have seemingly decided that nothing will stand in the way of that goal. Amid the allegations of rape about their superstar and racist chants aimed at their hottest prospect, the silence of the club, as well as the misguided opinions of the staff, are the truest indications of what the true essence of Juventus Football Club has become in the modern age.