Juventus’ recent forays into continental competition have had a Sisyphean feel to them.
Like the derelict of Greek mythology’s struggles to reach the apex of a steep hill with boulder in tow, the Italian giants have made the Champions League final twice in the last four years only to stumble at the last hurdle.
Bored by domestic dominance and the spoils of seven-straight Scudettos, the Old Lady’s target is beyond Italian borders, and in a variation of the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ adage, Juventus have signed the authority of all things Champions League.
No individual has enjoyed recent success in the Champions League like Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star makes the Serie A switch as the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 120 goals, and is second only to Iker Casillas in appearances with 153. If the Italians were looking for a certain fix to their European stumbles, they could do worse than lean on the former Real Madrid goal machine.
Ahead of Wednesday’s Group H opener at Valencia, the question that surrounds Juventus’ latest attempt at capturing Europe’s biggest prize for the first time since 1996 is whether or not Ronaldo will be the factor that gets them over the hump. Drawing a conclusion at this point is premature, but there are a slew of variables where Ronaldo’s addition could prove beneficial.
In terms of familiarity with club football’s biggest stage, few can compete with five-time Champions League winner Ronaldo. Bianconeri brethren Blaise Matuidi certainly agrees. “For sure his experience is one of winning a lot, especially in the Champions League,” Matuidi told beIN SPORTS. “It will help us in the crucial moments of the season. We will see it at work, this time on our side.”
No player has won more Champions League titles than Ronaldo, and since joining the capital city colossus in 2009, Los Blancos reached the semi-final stage or further in every season except the first one. Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, was a focal point on all those sides and 2007-08 European champions Manchester United.
Max Allegri’s side has no shortage of veteran cornerstones, but even with a stacked squad rife with top-tier players, only Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic have won the Champions League, and if continental finales have been a stumbling block, Ronaldo’s signing can only help.
“Obviously it’s going to be a little different from having such a big player there,” Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale told reporters ahead of Roma’s midweek visit to the Santiago Bernabeu. “It’s maybe a bit more relaxed, yes. I suppose there is more of a team, more working as one unit rather than one player.”
Bale’s admission bodes well if Julen Lopetegui’s charges are doing faith-based exercises at a work retreat, though it doesn’t necessarily translate to success in Europe. During his Real tenure between 2009-10 and 2017-18, Ronaldo was responsible for 50 percent of the club’s Champions League goals. The 33-year-old has led the tournament in scoring in each of the last six seasons, and after Ronaldo’s 15 tallies last season, the next highest total in the squad were the five chipped in from Benzema. Zinedine Zidane’s exit doesn’t exactly buoy Real’s hopes, either.
Juventus’ gain is Real’s loss, and in strengthening their continental hopes, they’ve weakened those of the team that has won the tournament in each of the last three tries.
Goals when they matter most
The days of Champions League success tethered to staunch defensive practices have taken a backseat to free-scoring ways. In each of the last eight finals, both sides have scored at least once, with winners of four of the last five tournaments scoring no fewer than three goals in the decider.
Over that spell, Juventus has tasted defeat at the last obstacle courtesy of a dearth of goals, dropping the 2014-15 final to Barcelona 3-1 before slumping to a decisive 4-1 defeat to Real two years later. In the four Champions League finals whilst with the Los Blancos, Ronaldo has registered three goals – including a brace against Juve in the 2016-17 match – and bagged the decisive penalty in the 2015-16 thriller over rival Atletico. He also scored a towering header against Chelsea in the 2007-08 finale, and three goals over the two legs against his new side at last season’s quarter-final stage.
Assuming Juventus progress deep into Europe’s marquee contest, Ronaldo’s penchant for scoring massive goals against elite opponents should come in handy. Certain to relish the opportunity to remind previous suitors Manchester United of his talents when Juventus visits Old Trafford on Oct. 23, Allegri and Co. will hope he gets another chance to do so for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
It’s a bit early to determine if Juventus can get over the continental hump, but if there’s a footballer that can push a boulder to the zenith of an arduous incline, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo.