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You could see it in the eyes of Gianluigi Buffon. Behind the rage and fury, there was fear. Fear that not only had he spurned his last chance of a career-defining moment, but that Juventus would wait a generation for another opportunity like this. They’d come so close to knocking out Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League, but with the contentious award of a penalty kick, the Bianconeri were out.
The reaction to their elimination verged on the hysterical in Italy. Buffon’s conduct, especially as the captain and spiritual leader of Juve, was unacceptable. But it illustrated how many believed this to be the Turin club’s last chance of winning the Champions League, at least with this group of players. They’ve made the final twice in the past four seasons, but that’s as far as this generation will go.
On Sunday, Juventus clinched their seventh straight Scudetto, holding off Napoli who had mounted a strong challenge towards the end of the campaign. No team in Italian football history has been as dominant as Juve are at this moment. But nonetheless, we are witnessing the dying days of this Bianconeri team. A transition is about to come.
Buffon, for instance, will retire at the end of the current season, bringing down the curtain on a remarkable 23-year career. Giorgio Chiellini will remain at Juve for next season, but at 33 years old the centre back is well into the twilight of his career. Elsewhere, Gonzalo Higuain is now the wrong side of 30, with Andrea Barzagli 37 and Claudio Marchisio 32. Mario Mandzukic will also be 32 next week, while Blaise Matuidi turned 31 last month.
Across the board, this is an ageing team. That’s not to say they don’t possess quality, far from it. Paulo Dybala, to give just one example, is a superstar still early in his development. But if Juve don’t make changes now, they will eventually suffer a decline in performances and results. It might already be happening.
What’s more, there is strong speculation that manager Max Allegri could leave the Allianz Stadium this summer, with Arsenal and Chelsea both linked. The man himself insists that he will remain, commenting “If they don’t fire me, then I think I’m staying at Juventus next year too.” but there are still question marks over his future.
Even if Allegri does stay, he must start the transition into the next generation as soon as the current season concludes this weekend. Juventus need fresh blood and it will take time for them to find that. But if any team can implement such fundamental changes to their squad, the Bianconeri can. They boast one of the best recruitment divisions in all of European football. They must now put it to good use.