The moment that the final whistle blew in Tuesday’s epic Champions League tie between Juventus and Porto, the narrative for the rest of the week had already been cast.
Andrea Pirlo in? Andrea Pirlo out?
Cristiano Ronaldo in? Cristiano Ronaldo out?
Karma catching up with European Super League enthusiast Andrea Agnelli.
And if you bother reading half of the childish replies to football threads on Twitter nowadays, Juve are a ‘finished club’, followed by something about ratios or dubs.
A heavy, ominous cloud of negativity has formed over Turin in the aftermath of their Champions League exit, having beaten Porto 3-2 on the night, but drawing 4-4 on aggregate and crashing out on away goals.
The darkness is unlikely to shift until the summer, given Juve’s slim hopes of retaining their league title – a fate they would suffer for the first time in a decade. And all of this, filmed and recorded by Amazon, for the world to replay time and time again.
Juve, very much putting the ‘nothing’ in All or Nothing.
Yet, as is the ruthless and tempestuous nature of the Champions League, the narrative could have been oh, so contrasting on Wednesday morning. A well struck free-kick and a poorly disciplined defensive wall was the eventual undoing of Pirlo and Juventus, as that painful blow in the second half of extra-time proved a mountain too high to climb.
And Ronaldo’s inability to stand still and take one for the team has ultimately cost Federico Chiesa his breakout moment in the sun, after the Italian delivered a brace and an all-round faultless display in the Round of 16 defeat.
The 23-year-old was simply brilliant from start to finish on Tuesday evening, epitomising all the heart, spirit and talent that Juventus supporters demand from their troops. It was Chiesa who gave I Bianconeri any hope of progressing to the quarter-finals, pulling them level on the night with a sublimely cool finish on 49 minutes.
Chiesa raced onto Ronaldo’s layoff and curled the ball majestically into the far, top corner, giving the imperious Agustin Marchesin no chance of stopping it. It was the kick up the backside that this team needed, and seemingly swung the game in Juve’s favour.
Six minutes later, Porto were down to 10 men, and nine minutes after that, Chiesa had levelled the scores over the two legs. He timed his run off his marker perfectly, rose to meet Juan Cuadrado’s wicked cross and buried a header beyond the goalkeeper.
Chiesa was a man possessed on the night, harassing the Porto defence when they were in possession of the ball, or sprinting directly at them, putting them on the back foot. His relentlessness meant that he was more often than not in the right place at the right time, and he showed great intelligence to beat the defence with his disguised runs.
He’d even come close to notching the second before he did hammer the net with his header, after he’d slipped his marker and nudged the ball around Marchesin with his forehead, though he could only hit the post with his effort.
Chiesa demanded the ball time and time again, determined to be the one to make something happen, or to produce the magic needed to clinch the game. It was an inspired display, and whatever the outcome, he is a hero for his efforts.
The same could not be said for all of his teammates, however.
Legendary coach and Sky Sport Italia pundit Fabio Capello noted that the senior players and leaders of the Juventus team went into hiding during and after the match, as they sent the starlets to face the music in front of the cameras.
Chiesa was one of the few who faced the criticism head on, admitting the team had ‘no excuses,’ while shrugging off any personal satisfaction from his performance in the wake of such a damaging exit.
“I thank everyone for the compliments, but I don’t take home anything positive. I wanted to qualify like the whole team, we are disappointed and sad. We deserved to qualify for what we produced, but in the end we made a mistake,” he said.
” My mantra is to always improve, that’s what made me get to these levels and hopefully keep me so high. I always try to give my best for the team. “
– Federico Chiesa
“We have no excuses, we should have qualified.”
These words spoke of a man ready to take on the responsibility of carrying one of the biggest teams in Europe to the glory it craves, and one they can rely on when the going gets tough. It’s no flash in the pan either, given his 12 goals and nine appearances in all competitions this season. He is consistently delivering at the highest level.
And that is something Juventus must embrace. Chiesa has only been at the club for less than a season, but not only has he settled in quicker than the other new arrivals, he also looks more at home than some stars who have walked the JMedical corridors for several years.
His fino alla fine mentality will give supporters hope that if they build the team around the pacy winger, they could still challenge for football’s biggest trophies in the next few years.
Chiesa is a shining light in a storm of misery and opacity in Turin, and amid all the uncertainties, one thing is clear: If anyone is going to inspire this team to success in the near future, it’s their talismanic, devoted winger.
We have to wave goodbye to the Ronaldo era, because the Chiesa reign has already begun.