Can Sarri succeed in Europe where predecessors failed at Juventus?

Fabio Capello, Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri all failed to stop the rot… now, with Juventus craving their first Champions League title since 1996, can Maurizio Sarri succeed where his predecessors have failed?

  • Juventus are targeting their first Champions League success since 1996
  • Massimiliano Allegri got to two finals but failed to deliver the desired trophy
  • It is now up to Maurizio Sarri to navigate the Italian giants all the way to glory
  • With Cristiano Ronaldo in form, Sarri cannot waste their window of opportunity 

When Gianluca Vialli clasped hands on the Champions League trophy before hurling it into the air to joyous celebrations with his team-mates in 1996, Juventus fans would have scoffed at the idea of that being their last for more than two decades. 

Carlo Ancelotti failed to deliver one. Marcelo Lippi, the manager for that success in 1995-96, failed on his return. Fabio Capello failed. Claudio Ranieri failed. Ciro Ferrara failed. Antonio Conte failed. And, most recently, Massimiliano Allegri failed. 

The Champions League is a need, rather than a want, for Juventus these days. It’s an itch that they cannot scratch, an addiction they cannot kick. Now it is down to Maurizio Sarri, a man who, before his stint at Chelsea, had not won a major title, to do what each of his predecessors in the last 24 years have failed to do. Win it. 

Maurizio Sarri is the latest Juventus manager tasked with delivering a Champions League title

The Italian champions have failed to win it since Gianluca Vialli (middle) lifted it in 1995-96

Eight straight Serie A titles could soon become nine but it is the Champions League that is what this team’s entire season orbits around. 

It is why they shelled out £100million for Cristiano Ronaldo. He was brought in to deliver against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool, not SPAL, Lecce and Genoa.  

And that was what made Allegri’s final attempt at Europe’s premier club competition so disappointing. With Ronaldo in his ranks, and a path of Ajax and Tottenham to the final, the Italians were heavy favourites and yet were roundly beaten over two legs by the Dutch side. 

Allegri was exhausted with two final defeats now on his CV – a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2014-15 and a 4-1 defeat to a Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid in Cardiff in 2016-17 showed how far away they were – and stepped away. 

Corriere dello Sport called the Ajax loss last season an ‘Apocalypse’, it was the first time since 2015 that Ronaldo would play no part in a Champions League final, and at 34, that has to now be an anomaly, rather than the rule. This latest window of opportunity will not stay open for long. 

For a club as prestigious and steeped in success like Juventus, they can boast as many Champions League titles as Nottingham Forest. That is not enough for the hierarchy or the supporters. 

Fabio Capello (left) could not go beyond quarter-finals as Claudio Ranieri (right) also fell short 

Antonio Conte started the club’s recent domestic dominance but struggled badly in Europe


1995-96 – WINNERS 

Manager – Marcelo Lippi 

1996-97 – Finalists (Lost to Borussia Dortmund) 

Manager – Marcelo Lippi

1997-98 – Finalists (Lost to Real Madrid) 

Manager – Marcelo Lippi 

1998-99 – Semi-finalists (Lost to Manchester United) 

Manager – Carlo Ancelotti 

1999-2000 – N/A 

2000-01 – Second group stage (finished 4th) 

Manager – Carlo Ancelotti  

2002-03 – Finalists (Lost to AC Milan)

Manager – Marcelo Lippi  

2003-04 – Last-16 (Lost to Deportivo La Coruna) 

Manager – Marcelo Lippi  

2004-05 – Quarter-finals (Lost to Liverpool) 

Manager – Fabio Capello 

2005-06 – Quarter-finals (Lost to Arsenal) 

Manager – Fabio Capello  

2006-07 – N/A  

2007-08 – N/A  

2008-09 – Last-16 (Lost to Chelsea) 

Manager – Claudio Ranieri

2009-10 – Group stage (Finished 3rd) 

Manager – Ciro Ferrera

2010-11 – N/A

2011-12 – N/A

2012-13 – Quarter-finals (Lost to Bayern Munich) 

Manager – Antonio Conte 

2013-14 – Group stage (Finished 3rd)

Manager – Antonio Conte  

2014-15 – Finalists (Lost to Barcelona)

Manager – Massimiliano Allegri 

2015-16 – Last-16 (Lost to Bayern Munich)

Manager – Massimiliano Allegri  

2016-17 – Finalists (Lost to Real Madrid)

Manager – Massimiliano Allegri  

2017-18 – Quarter-finals (Lost to Real Madrid)

Manager – Massimiliano Allegri  

2018-19 – Quarter-finals (Lost to Ajax)

Manager – Massimiliano Allegri  

So whether Sarri wants to admit it or not, he knows the brief. Keep the domestic dominance going, all while bringing the trophy they crave above all else. 

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp could not resist piling pressure on his former Premier League counterpart either, calling the Italian side the clear favourites to win the tournament. 

The German was quoted by The Guardian as saying: ‘Juventus were my favourites before the season started but obviously I don’t watch Italian football enough because I cannot work out why they are not 10 points ahead at the top of Serie A. 

‘They have the biggest squad I have ever seen in my life; quality players too, it’s crazy.’

They will be expected to comfortably dispatch Lyon in the last-16, even if they got a wake-up call against Ajax that favourite tags count for very little in Europe. 

History is on Juventus’ side for the upcoming match-up with Lyon having been beaten in five of their last seven two-legged knockout ties against Italian sides.  

Massimiliano Allegri consoled his players after losing the 2015 final 3-1 against Barcelona

Allegri failed again following a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Real Madrid in Cardiff in 2017

Lyon are seventh in Ligue 1 and 28 points off leaders Paris Saint-Germain. For context, that is the gap between Juventus in 1st and Cagliari in 11th in Serie A right now. 

And so anything other than a win would be inexcusable, particularly with some already questioning Sarri given the nature of the title race right now. Juventus are not dominating like before, if Europe does not make up for that, it will be his head on the block. 

Juventus are a club with the most Champions League final defeats to their name. That’s a worrying trend, falling at the final hurdle. Allegri’s pragmatism saw the side go stale and there is hope that a more adventurous style under Sarri can shake-up their fortunes in Europe. 

Their plight is celebrated among their Italian rivals – not least AC Milan, who boast seven European Cup/Champions League – and with Ronaldo still among the game’s elite, and Paulo Dybala showing real improvement alongside him, Sarri is all out of viable excuses should it blow up in his face.   

Navigating past Lyon is one thing but facing Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona and others would prove a far greater challenge. Sarri must deliver or he risks becoming the latest in a long line of Bianconeri bosses to fall by the wayside.  

The window of opportunity around Cristiano Ronaldo is closing and Sarri cannot waste it

The former Napoli boss has limited experience winning major titles but must step up to deliver

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