Quarter-final date with Bayern another step in turnaround

Posted by Mina Rzouki

"In 2010 we were lacking all the enthusiasm and all the pride of being part of Juventus. When we came in 2010, we declared that we needed two years to turn around the team, you can't change 20 players in one go."

So explained Andrea Agnelli this week in an interview with ESPN as Juventus moved into the Champions League quarter-finals. Since Gianni Agnelli's nephew took over as president of Italy's most successful club three years ago, the Old Lady has witnessed a remarkable turnaround in her fortunes.

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Having accrued millions in debt largely due to the Calciopoli scandal, Juve's return to the top flight started well but the team soon suffered a complete collapse. Poor transfers, costly contracts, a loss of identity and a mountain of debt affected the team both on and off the pitch.

As Agnelli confessed, the club "track of the sporting project." The club's main shareholder, Exor, had to act in order to stop the decline and restore glory to a fallen giant.

Asked what was changed in order to achieve success, Agnelli explained it started "with accountability and precise responsibility over the various aspects that the company needs managed."

Appointed as president of the Italian giants in May 2010, Agnelli brought on Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici swiftly to help stop the decay and start a new project. Juve needed to restore their identity - that of a side that nurtured, rather than bought, world-class talent, a side that believed in the Italianità of football and a club renowned for hard work to obtain results.

Objectives were swiftly set out and achieved. Players on lucrative contracts were sent packing, the average age of the side was lowered and only smart investments were made -- Juventus began to build for the future. There was a greater emphasis on youth, on buying Italian and on only offering contracts that were deemed 'value for money.'

"When I took office, that year was one of the worst, actually the worst year as we had lost 95 million euros," Agnelli said. "We had to call for a capital increase that was fully subscribed. It was thanks to our general shareholders that we were able to actually turn around the company with great investments on the sport side.”

Agnelli was indeed right, Juventus were struggling with a mountain of debt. However, by the end of June 2012, the club recorded a smaller loss of 48.7 million euros; and by the end of June 2013, the loss ought to be significantly lower.

The stadium revenue, the Champions League money, in addition to various sponsorship deals with the likes of Jeep have allowed the Bianconeri further control over their finances.

Marotta and Paratici worked throughout the night to close deals, make the right contacts and push the team forward. However, they were men remembered for their work at Sampdoria - they were not Juve men. With manager Gigi Delneri suffering with the pressure, Agnelli quickly recognised the benefit of bringing a piece of the old Juve back.

“I realized that we needed someone who understood what Juventus meant and what the underlined value is of being at Juventus,” explained Angelli when asked on the impact of Antonio Conte, who succeeded Delneri in 2011. “He had a very clear understanding of what kind of pressure you're put under at Juventus.”

The tolerance for mediocrity vanished and the soldier mentality returned. Hard work was the only way to return to winning ways and that meant working on a winning mentality, building a cohesive unit and making wise purchases on the market.

Juventus have now gone back to being a side that have perfected the art of defence and one that understands how to close out a game. Alert and concentrated throughout the entirety of their matches, Conte's players believe, his managers believe and now Europe believes.

Undefeated in the Champions League thus far in the campaign, Friday morning the Old Lady learned she would face Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.

Billed as the game that will pit the backbone of the German national team against the backbone of the Italian national side, we will see Bayern's beautiful attack take on Juve's beautiful defence. Two clubs, two identities and two sides with overwhelming history and European pedigree.

Unfortunately, it will also be a match between two of Europe's greatest final-hurdle chokers. Collectively, the sides have reached the final of the Champions League a staggering 16 times, but managed only six trophies. Both teams hope that on this occasion luck will be on their side.

Conte will remember that was Jupp Heynckes's Real Madrid that robbed his team of the chance to win a Champions League trophy in 1998 when Conte was a Juve player. Now as coach, he will be hoping to extract revenge by defeating Heynckes' glorious Bavarian side.

It won't be easy but it is possible. Bayern have rarely lost this season and sit 20 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, having conceded a mere 10 goals. However, faced against a side that frustrates their forwards and counterattacks to precision, they have been known to suffer and lose.

They may have only conceded 10 in the league, but also 10 in Europe as well. Juventus, on the other hand, have conceded only four goals in this elite competition, scoring 17. Both clubs know how to attack and how to defend -- the question is, who will choke on this occasion?

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