Was it all down to Antonio Conte? Did signing Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal make all the difference? Could the contribution of the Juventus Stadium have been the key? Whatever your answers to all these questions, there is no doubt the Bianconeri were a team transformed when they picked up the Scudetto last season. And it set me wondering if their revival was the greatest ever seen in Serie A?
So out came the almanacs to look at the biggest gaps ever bridged by Italian title winners since the war. The starting point was Juve’s striking improvement on their miserable 2010/11. They finished a massive 24 points behind that year’s champions Milan – the equivalent of eight match victories. That game win figure became a yardstick to compare across the eras of two and three points for a victory.
In fairness, the size of Serie A has also changed, making it almost impossible to compare different eras. Nonetheless, it makes for a decent talking point if nothing else. Was last term’s rejuvenation of La Vecchia Signora to topple reigning champions Milan the most dramatic ever seen?
In fact, on this basis anyway, it is actually the Rossoneri themselves who boast the most astounding turnaround. They had been 10 wins back of Juventus in the 1997/98 season but, under Alberto Zaccheroni, they pulled off probably their most improbable triumph 12 months later. It truly was a stratospheric return to form.
It underlines what many people felt at the time – that it was something of a freak triumph. Everyone knew this was not one of the great red and black sides and a look back at the huge squad they used confirms that. However, they hit a powerful run of results at the right time. Sometimes that can be enough to turn on the turbo and leave your rivals trailing in your wake.
You have to go back nearly another decade to find anyone who came close to Milan’s achievement. Vujadin Boskov’s Sampdoria side of 1991 had been the equivalent of nine and a half wins back from Napoli the year before but it did not stop them flying to glory.
It was, in a sense, another shock victory as it broke up the dominance of the traditional powers of the time. But the Blucerchiati had been building a side to challenge for major honours for quite some time. Their astute transfer strategy reached its peak with their Scudetto triumph but it came at the pinnacle of a golden age.
Just the same, few have known a greater league rise and fall than the Doriani. Their title defence was one of the most feeble of recent times. Vialli and company were clearly drained by European duties as they finished miles adrift of Milan (the equivalent of nine wins back). They did, however, come within a whisker of European Cup success.
The Rossoneri staged a similar bounce in 1959 when they wiped out a nine-and-a-half win deficit on Juve the year before. However, history shows that those are exceptions, not the rule. If you want to prise the title away from its current holders you will really need to have finished within five wins of them in the previous campaign. In two out of every three seasons since the Second World War where the Scudetto has changed hands that has been the case. On last year’s standings, that would rule out anyone other than Milan wrestling the crown away from the Bianconeri this year.
And nobody has, as yet, come straight from Serie B to win the Scudetto – Sampdoria, Torino and Pescara be warned. The closest was probably Lazio’s 1974 crown which came just a couple of years after gaining promotion. That too, was something of an incredible title win. A club which had two distinct “camps” in the dressing room somehow managed to gel when it stepped onto the pitch. It was never likely, however, to be the basis of prolonged success.
The flipside to the amazing revivals, of course, have been some spectacular declines. As mentioned already, Sampdoria are among the sides to put up a particularly poor defence of their title. But, history shows, it was not the worst since the Second World War.
Torino had every reason in the world to slide down the rankings in 1949/50 after the Superga disaster, finishing ten and a half wins down on Juventus. Bologna, too, slid 10 victories behind Inter after their 1964 Scudetto. But the worst attempt to retain their crown probably belongs to an unexpected source.
In 1961/62, Juventus finished the equivalent of a dozen wins behind Milan having won back-to-back titles in the previous two campaigns. One of the reasons might sound a bit worrying to their modern day fans. Club legend Giampiero Boniperti had hung up his boots and they were simply no longer the force they had been when they could call on his services. Sound familiar at all?
Nobody seriously expects the Bianconeri to suffer a similar decline this season now that Alex Del Piero is gone. The difference, of course, is that Boniperti went out while still at the peak of his powers while his modern day counterpart had definitely become a more peripheral player when his Juve career ended in the summer. They will miss ADP, no doubt, but surely not to the point of complete collapse.
This all means something and nothing for the season now under way. Such records are there to be broken, but it seems unlikely Juventus will plunge as deeply as their predecessors of 50 years ago did. It would, however, seem to make it improbable that anyone can come from 30 points back last season to win the league this year. On that basis, only seven teams can harbour serious hopes of dethroning the Turin giants. Milan, Udinese, Lazio, Napoli, Inter, Roma and Parma – it’s over to you.