Three Headaches For Juventus!
It is Saturday, June 6, 2015.
An estimated 400 million audience around the world are glued to their television sets. I am sitting amongst some 74,475 fee-paying spectators that have filled the terraces of the magnificent Olympiastadion, venue of the finals of the 2015 Uefa Champions League, to the brim.
Tonight, the two best teams in Europe (and possibly in the world) will be trading tackles to settle who becomes the 2015 Uefa Champions League champion, with a glittering silver trophy and the highest prize money in football at stake – a whopping over 100 million Dollars!
I am looking at the two teams as they file out for what promises to be a thriller in Berlin, Germany!
Of particular interest to many analysts are two principal actors that will play a very significant role in this football drama that is about to unfold. They both have headaches!
I remember M.K.O Abiola. The late Nigerian businessman and Pillar of Sports in Africa had an adage now ringing in my head as I await the start of this epic encounter: ‘the bigger the head the bigger the headache’.
I remember him now because Luis Enrique and Massiliano Allegri the managers of FC Barcelona and Juventus FC respectively, the combatants at tonight’s football ‘war’, both have big headaches.
In Enrique’s case it was the kind of headache many coaches would pray to have.
As coach of Barcelona in the past seasons Luis inherited a team that had reached its peak, was actually on the wane, and that revolved around one indispensable player. Without Lionel Messi Barcelona would never have been the best team in Europe for 4 consecutive years. He was the team’s talisman, and its system and philosophy were molded around his extra-ordinary talent. Managing such a big ego would be a pleasant challenge for any manager. Pep Guardiola and every succeeding manager after him have had to allow Messi absolutely free–rein for the team to succeed.
Two season’s ago, a new manager added one more headache to the team by bringing in Neymar, the brightest star in the football constellation at the time, one touted to be the successor to Messi. He was such a big star that competing for ‘space’ with Messi affected the psyche of the team that started to look raggedy for a lot of times during the season. It was apparent that the pair of Neymar and Messi in one team was a technical disaster waiting to happen.
Then came the 2014/2015 season and as if two headaches were not enough, Luis Enrique took charge and brought in a third headache, another superstar of stellar proportions, who had just carved his name in gold as a prolific hardworking and hard-fighting goal scorer from Uruguay, a tempestuous character with a massive ego. Luis Suarez joined Barca. It was pure ‘madness’!
How do you manage such big egos? How do you build a friendly, cooperating unit out of these three football artists whose strength lies is in their individual expressiveness? What system would you play that would accommodate these three lethal finishers? It seemed like an impossible mission.
‘The bigger the head, the bigger the headache’. The world was worried for Luis and for FC Barcelona. The end of the Tiki Taka era, of FC Barcelona, and, of course, of the failure of an experiment doomed to fail from its sheer audacity was in sight. How could any manager assemble three of the best four strikers in the world in one team and hope to succeed? The only player missing from the list of the world’s top four goal scorers is Christiano Ronaldo!
At the tail end of the 2015 season the impossible has become reality. How Luis Enrique did it would be of massive interest to students of football. But a goal-scoring machine has been created with all three players contributing to the greatest haul of goals probably in the history of the Champions league. A new system has also been created with all three players playing upfront, transforming FC Barcelona from the five-man mid-field system that made them the greatest team in the history of football in the late 2000s, to a new team this season that has become the greatest goal-scoring machine in European football.
This surely is a good headache to have going into the finals of the 2015 Champions league final match.
The other manager on the other side also has his own headache created by the same set of three players.
So far in the championship Allegri has been playing safe and harmless. Until Juventus faced up to Real Madrid in the past two weeks, the team, despite their dominance of the Italian league in the past 4 seasons, did not strike anyone as good enough to win the Champions league.
Now, their innocence has evaporated with their last two victories. They have now been unrobed and would have to come face to face with the full armory of an FC Barcelona side still under construction but in devastating goal scoring form. Barca are still not perfectly formed yet but they are winning their matches and scoring goals even when they are not playing as well as they have done in years past. There are weaknesses still at the back, and the team’s midfield is ageing.
But to under-rate them is to sign a death warrant!
Surely, for Allegri this is not a good headache to have. One headache is big enough! But to have three massive headaches, as in Messi, Neymar and Suarez, is surely too much for any opposing manager to deal with.
So, here I am in Berlin sitting in the terraces waiting for kick-off and wondering just how Juventus FC will keep away this rampaging trio of exceptional players and goal scorers, and still find the space and the single goal-scoring opportunity they might need to make them win the match and the championship.
It will be a very entertaining match. Juventus FC, if they should win the match will do so by a very lone solitary goal!
FC Barcelona, if they should win, as is very likely they would, will do so with an avalanche of goals!