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Juventus out of the Champions League: If this isn't failure, then what is?

12:00 BST 26/10/2022
Massimiliano Allegri Juventus 2022-23 HIC 16:9
Massimiliano Allegri is fooling nobody: Juventus' group-stage elimination is an embarrassment and he's lucky to still be in a job.

At the start of No Country for Old Men, amid the bloody carnage left behind by a drug deal gone wrong, Deputy Wendell says, "It's a mess, ain't it, Sheriff?"

Ed Tom Bell replies, "If it ain't, it'll do 'til the mess gets here."

That little line came to mind while hearing Massimiliano Allegri once again refuse to acknowledge the blindingly obvious.

"I don't consider this failure," the Juventus coach insisted after Tuesday night's Champions League elimination in Lisbon.

Well, if this isn't failure, it'll certainly do 'til the failure gets here.

Just consider the numbers, which are both horrendous and damning.

Before the fatal 4-3 loss at Benfica, Juve had never before conceded three goals in the first half of a Champions League match.

They have also been eliminated at the group stage for the first time since 2013-14, after picking up just three points (one win, against Maccabi Haifa) from five games – their worst ever tally at this stage of the tournament.

In 2017, Juve reached a second final in three seasons. The following year, they were eliminated in the quarters by Ajax. Then came three consecutive last-16 losses, to Lyon, Porto and Villarreal, before this latest humiliation in Lisbon.

And it was a humiliation. Don't be fooled by what the Gazzetta dello Sport rightly labelled a "liar" of a final scoreline.

Juve CEO Maurizio Arrivabene had told Sport Mediaset beforehand, “We didn’t take a three-hour flight here just to joke around.” And yet their first half-display was farcical, the defence completely at sixes and sevens.

Arrivabene had urged the players to “prove they deserve to wear the Juventus jersey” – yet so many senior players went missing.

Juve would have been routed, in fact, had it not been for some wasteful second-half finishing from their hosts, and a stirring late fightback sparked by the introduction of three teenagers: Fabio Miretti, Matias Soule and Samuel Iling-Junior.

In many ways, this was the worst possible result for Juve's disgruntled fan base, as Allegri was able to engage in more straw-clutching at the full-time whistle: the team fought until the end, the players are still behind him, key men are set to return from injury, performances will improve, the season is long, there’s still a lot to play for, and so on...

It's clear, though, that Juve are in decline, a decline which has been exacerbated rather than reversed by Allegri's return as coach.

It's also abundantly obvious that he's only still in a job because of the size of his contract, which runs until 2025, and Juve's financial problems.

Any other coach would have been sacked by this stage of the season. Remember, Juve aren't just toiling in Europe; they're also well off the pace at home, with the team currently ninth in the Serie A standings, 10 points behind leaders Napoli after just 11 rounds.

However, president Andrea Agnelli insisted after the shameful loss to Maccabi Haifa that he had no intention of sacking Allegri before the end of the season, which means there is no end in sight to the fans' misery.

In reality, things could get a whole lot worse before they get any better.

Juve should scrape into the Europa League, most likely on goal difference, but it is by no means a guarantee, given they must face a free-scoring and top spot-chasing PSG in their final fixture.

There is serious scope for further embarrassment. And economic complications.

Going out of Europe would be a financial disaster for Juve, who have spent big in 2022, both in terms of transfer fees and wages, in the hope of re-establishing themselves among the continent's elite.

And yet here they are, left battling it out with Maccabi Haifa for a place in the Europa League.

Hardly surprising, then, that the European Super League (ESL) rumours have returned in recent days; the breakaway can't come soon enough for Juve.

Lest it be forgotten, it was Agnelli who led the failed coup, insisting that it was essential for the survival of the game. In truth, it was a desperate attempt to save his own club from its own mistakes.

Agnelli has always claimed that Juve can't compete with the financial might of the Premier League and state-backed clubs like Paris Saint-Germain.

And he's right, to a degree: the transfer market has been inflated to unsustainable and obscene levels by oil money and overseas TV rights deals.

But Juve, through their own incompetence, have proven themselves incapable of competing with sides assembled on a fraction of their budget, and without the massive financial backing of a massive parent company like Exor.

So, this really isn’t all about Allegri and his horribly outdated tactics. As Agnelli himself conceded after the loss in Israel, "In a situation like this, it’s not about one person."

Allegri simply has to acknowledge – and take responsibility for – Juve’s rotten results.

But the fact that he's still in charge is a damning indictment of Agnelli and his board, and the dire financial situation that they have put the club in.

This is a total systemic meltdown, a club in the midst of a complete institutional crisis, now under intense scrutiny on and off the field.

Indeed, the day after it was confirmed that Juve will remain under investigation for alleged false accounting and communications, they were dumped out of the Champions League.

The club insists it has done no wrong off the field, but their performances on the field this season are indefensible.

Indeed, it's impossible not to look at Juventus Football Club right now and wonder, if this isn't a mess, if this isn't failure, then what is?