After almost six years in the wilderness, Juventus FC, the “Old Lady” of Italian soccer, has recovered its standing as one of Italy’s best teams. But its goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon thinks AC Milan remains the team to beat in Serie A, according to FIFA.com.
“Milan is the strongest team in the tournament,” FIFA.com reports Buffon said to the Juventus website. “But we will not play the role of victims. The fact that we have beaten them twice this season means that we have earned their respect.”
Juventus travels to Milan on Saturday, trailing its league-leading opponent by just one point in the Serie A standings — though it has played one fewer game. Despite beating Milan in October and on Feb. 8 in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup), Buffon — and anyone else associated with Juventus — is hesitant to proclaim that the storied club has returned to greatness.
That’s the job of the media and fans, so here goes: Juventus has not lost in 26 games in all competitions this season. First-year manager (and former Juve midfielder) Antonio Conte has instilled his personality and belief into the team to great effect. Adding former Milan playmaker Andrea Pirlo has brought missing class and composure to the midfield, and freed his teammates to do Conte’s bidding.
Earlier this month, general manager Beppe Marotta heaped praise on Conte in comments he made to the Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Today we are there thanks to the great work done by Conte, who is in charge of this group of players and has instilled dedication and a strong work ethic into this group,” he said. “We are happy about this and are looking to the future with confidence.”
Juventus fell on hard times after it was implicated in the 2006 “Calciopoli” scandal. Its former directors — along with those at other top clubs — were implicated in a wide-ranging plot to fix games by picking sympathetic referees for its games.
After the scandal was uncovered, the club was stripped of the 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles, fined and demoted to Serie B. It won the second division crown in the 2006-07 season, but has never had the look of a champion since returning to Serie A.
If it beats Milan on Saturday, it will be safe for Juve fans to start dreaming of Scudetto (championship) celebratoins at the newly reopened Juventus Stadium. Who cares what their legend of a goalkeeper says?
Photo via Flickr/kiki follettosa