Can Juventus lead Italy's European Renaissance?

Valerio Pennicino - Getty Images

Juventus could be in a position to lead a new era of Italian competitiveness in Europe, but they will need more than a good squad to do it.

In recent years, Italy has been the sick man of Europe. Mourinho's colossal achievement with Inter Milan failed to mask the stench of decline around Italy as a whole - their immediate decline, in tandem with the inadequacy of their domestic rivals, made it undeniable. Football, however, moves in cycles - Italian clubs will dominate Europe again just as England and Spain have, and in a few short years, that vision has gone from misty-eyed romanticism to a clear likelihood. How close we are to seeing such a renaissance will likely be determined by the progress of Juventus and Milan.

As a collective identity, Juventus are a young team bristling with potential, and one which could have all the right ingredients to compete in Europe. They have a midfield that is productive but with the necessary steel and discipline required in the Champions League, provided by the likes of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, and Kwadwo Asamoah, along with the calm and patient scheming of Andrea Pirlo. This comes with a reasonably solid defence and strikers who, while not quite world-class, provide a good all-round game and can be relied upon to take an important chance. In short, it is a team that can beat anyone on its day - not ordinarily enough to win the Champions League (last year being a notable exception), but certainly one that can be competitive.

Milan, by contrast, look a rabble. The Bianconeri may be the ones with the managerial problems after Antonio Conte's ban, and Massimiliano Allegri has likely staved off the sack for now, but the team he is leading appears to be without direction, driver, or destination. They appear to be a side that, barring a highly unlikely pulling-together and Scudetto win, will be facing a summer of identity crisis as deep as Juventus and Inter Milan did in the summer of 2010. Since that date, Juventus have improved immeasurably and have a title to show for it, and Inter's activity this summer could be a first giant step towards a similar accomplishment, so there will be a precedent - but also the expectation - for Milan to do the same.

Juventus' improvement has not stopped here, however. In January, it is more than likely they will add Fernando Llorente to their current squad, and combined with defensive improvement, we begin to see a team that looks like it could compete for the Champions League. And yet victory in that tournament requires something else, almost intangible. Sometimes it seems like the name alone carries enough weight: consider Manchester United's unfeasibly-simple stroll to the final in 2011, or Milan in their late-2000s struggles in Serie A taking to playing the Champions League theme tune to players before league fixtures in order to inspire them to match their European endeavours on the domestic stage.

Juventus are clearly a better team than Milan right now, by orders of magnitude when form and organisation are taken into account, and yet it would not be a huge surprise to see Milan go further in the Champions League. They still have too many of the lingering flaws that saw their destruction at the hands of the disciplined and energetic Manchester United in those difficult seasons before their 2011 Scudetto, but they also have that indefinable something else, which we cannot tell in advance if Juventus have yet obtained.

This season, we will see how close we are to another era of Italian teams competing for Europe's biggest prize. Football's constant progress through eras and cycles makes it an inevitability, but we will see the signs of whether Juventus are the team to lead that rebirth, or whether they will end up being one of the many false dawns that litter the footnotes of history. Other Italian clubs are waiting in the wings for next season, Napoli and Inter being the two most likely, but the revolution could be here already, and if it is, then it will be televised - if only in black and white.

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