8 May ~ With Sunday's 2-0 win against Cagliari, played at Trieste because Cagliari have locked horns with their local council over the use of their Sant Elia stadium, Juventus were crowned champions of Italy. With one game still to play they have 81 points to Milan's 77. Officially this is their first Scudetto since 2003, but they still claim they were champions in 2005, when the title was not awarded, and 2006, when it was given to Inter. According to the official records, this is their 28th title, but according to the club it is the 30th. This would allow them to add a third star to the two they already wear and they are threatening to do just that.
It would be an act of open defiance against the Italian football federation, which will surely require some kind of response, especially if the records continue to say Inter were champions in 2006.This petulant and infantile refusal by the club to accept the verdicts of the Calciopoli scandal that broke in 2006 threatens to add a sour note to what should be a triumph.
It is a pity because Juventus have thoroughly deserved to win the title. They are unbeaten in the league and the Coppa Italia, a total of 41 games, though this record might not have been reached if Sulley Muntari's "goal", which would have given Milan a 2-0 lead on February 25, had been spotted by the officials. On the other hand, they have been awarded only three penalties to Milan's ten.
After finishing seventh in the last two seasons, Juventus did not start as favourites under new coach and former player Antonio Conte, fresh from guiding Siena back into Serie A at the first attempt. However, they were not in Europe and have played ten games fewer than Milan. They have also largely managed to avoid injuries, which have plagued Milan throughout the season, including the serious health problems that kept Antonio Cassano out for nearly six months.
Conte has fashioned a team very much in his own image. As a player he was fiercely competitive but not especially gifted. His Juventus is a team without superstars, apart from the fading but still useful Alessandro Del Piero. Their success has been based on a miserly defence that has conceded just 19 goals in 37 games, and the ability to score enough goals (62) without having a proven goalscorer in the team.
While Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the top scorer in Serie A with 28 goals, Alessandro Matri is Juventus's leading scorer with just ten. He is 16th in the list of Serie A goalscorers. Even relegated Novara have a player, Marco Rigoni, with 11 goals. This is a team of artisans, but they are extremely well organised and everyone works for the cause with a ferocious dedication. There are no prima donnas; they were shipped out in January.
However, among the artisans, there is one artist who, together with Conte, is probably the main reason Juventus are back at the top. Andrea Pirlo, now into his thirties, is such a self-effacing character that it has probably escaped the notice of many that he is one of the world's best playmakers.
A year ago Milan wrote him off so, when his contract ran out, he was snapped up by Juventus for nothing. There were those who scoffed and said that he might play ten games. He has played 35, with seven goals and numerous assists. Milan should be kicking themselves for such a catastrophic error of judgement.
Why they thought Pirlo was finished but not the much older Clarence Seedorf is a mystery, as is the fact that they could have had Carlos Tevez in January, but Silvio Berlusconi preferred the injury-prone Brazilian Alexandre Pato, who has hardly played since.
Juventus will be back in the Champions League next season and their squad will need strengthening. They are to be congratulated for their success this season, but they would not have won the title had they been competing on all fronts.
A triumph, then, for Conte. But there are some possible clouds on his horizon that cannot be ignored. He could be involved in the current match-fixing scandal in connection with some games played by Siena last season.
We must hope for his sake that this is not so, and that his career as a coach is not about to be interrupted, but we have learnt in the last year in Italy that just when everything seems rosy, there is often a rude shock just around the corner. Richard Mason