Juventus is one of the historic giants in European soccer. You may have forgotten that, seeing as Serie A has been dead and buried for what seems like years. And on Tuesday, the Old Lady once again felt like it was one of the best on the continent.
And no, it wasn’t just because Juventus beat last year’s champions.
The Italian giants were back in the UEFA Champions League semifinals. Up against Real Madrid, the atmosphere was already set for the big European nights that are part of the sport’s lore. But just as importantly, Juventus had Juventus Stadium.
The fans were loud, singing and chanting long before the match started and carrying on after it ended. You could see fans squirming in their seats, cheering every Juventus foray forward and hushing when Cristiano Ronaldo got the ball. That wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.
For one, Juventus wasn’t very good five years ago. It sure as hell wasn’t making the Champions League semifinals (the group stage, yes. But not the semifinals). But Juve also didn’t have a stadium worthy of hosting such a match five years ago. The team played at the Stadio Olimpico, which put fans miles from the pitch. You couldn’t see many fans on TV, and you only heard a handful more. Even if it was a big match, it sure didn’t feel like it.
The Olimpico, like the Stadio delle Alpi before it, wasn’t worthy of a giant match. But Juventus Stadium is.
The new ground may be smaller, but with a 41,000 seat capacity, it’s hardly tiny. It’s new and well-designed. It has all the amenities, but more than anything, it is conducive to a great atmosphere. It packs fans on top of the pitch. It brings those big European nights that we saw on Tuesday.
Several more clubs in Italy are now trying to follow in Juventus’ footsteps. Roma is beginning prep work on a new 52,000 seat ground, while Milan recently revealed designs for an innovative new stadium and Napoli is negotiating with the city to buy – and renovate – its venue. They all want their own Juventus Stadiums.
Serie A fell behind other leagues in part because its clubs continued to play in dilapidated stadiums that they didn’t own. Teams didn’t just play in terrible venues with pitches surrounding by athletics tracks, but almost always had to share their revenue because they didn’t own the building.
In 2011, the Old Lady became the first Serie A team to own its stadium, funneling all the money earned right back into the club. That’s part of how Juventus ended up in the Champions League semifinals. And once there, their fans did the rest. They made for a frenzied atmosphere and the world got a look at it, in all its brilliance. Juventus Stadium brought the big European night back to Italy. Now it’s up to the rest of Serie A to catch up.