It has happened again, and worse than ever. Three years ago, Juventus paid € 100 million for a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, apparently on the logic that his guaranteed goals would propel the club one step closer to Champions League glory. Since then, Juventus have been eliminated in the quarter-finals and twice in the round of 16, the latest instance of Tuesday’s expulsion in extra time at the hands of a Porto team playing with 10 men for more than an hour.
The gamble has failed and Ronaldo played a pivotal role in the away goals defeat that accompanied the 4-4 tie on aggregate. The return leg was quite a remarkable match, a reminder of why, despite all the greed, all the unseemly maneuvers for a tournament restructuring, led by coincidence by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, the Champions League it is still such a special competition. But the critical goal, Porto’s second of the night and fourth in the tie, was a Sergio Oliveira free kick that pierced Ronaldo’s legs as he turned his back to the wall. Maybe it was unfortunate, but still, these are the basics: Stand still on the wall, at least face the ball, and the ball will fall to safety.
And perhaps the tendency would have been to look more kindly at the mistake had it not felt so symbolic of Ronaldo’s broader contribution, which was almost non-existent. On the tie, Porto deserved to progress. Porto had been a much better team in the first leg and had been a bit unlucky only to win 2-1, with Federico Chiesa’s late goal giving Juve a platform they hardly deserved. Porto were also the best team in the first half on Tuesday, taking the lead with a penalty from Oliveria.
But then, in 14 minutes, he nearly threw it away, conceding two goals to Chiesa and stupidly sending Mehdi Taremi off for a pair of quick yellow cards, the second of them for kicking the ball. At the time it seemed like another one of those games, like the win over Tottenham in 2018, when Juve inexplicably induced a collapse in an opponent. But somehow the winner didn’t come. Chiesa hit the post, Álvaro Morata inevitably had a goal disallowed for offside, and Juan Cuadrado hit the crossbar, which sent the tie into extra time. Surely there, it seems, Juve would find a way.
But Pepe, 38, was magnificent, as was Chancel Mbemba with him in the heart of Porto’s four defenders. In goal, Agustín Marchesin made a handful of critical saves. And then, five minutes from the end, came Oliveira’s free kick. Even then it was not over, with Adrien Rabiot leveling the aggregate from a corner two minutes later, but the advantage in away goals and ultimately place in the quarter-finals, went to Porto.
Since signing with Ronaldo, Juve have been overtaken by Ajax in the 2019 quarter-finals and have been eliminated by Lyon in the 2020 round of 16. You can point to another away goal defeat here and claim disgrace, but the truth is that Porto was much better for three quarters of the tie. Ronaldo has one year left on his contract, but unless something remarkable happens next year, the experiment will have failed. In Tuesday’s game, which is shaping up to be a 3-2 Juventus win on the day, he barely participated. His first touch in the Porto area did not come until the 49th minute, when he scored the first goal for Chiesa.
When he sank deep to find possession, he seemed slow, heavy-legged, immobile. He is a forward who needs service. That’s quite understandable given his age, but that only raises the question of why a 36-year-old is paid more than the next four tallest players in the club to work ineffectively.
Inevitably, questions will also be asked about Andrea Pirlo, who was appointed Juventus coach last summer with no experience whatsoever. The problem was less this game than the first leg, when Juve were desperately poor for long periods. He may well be charming and intelligent, and he was certainly a very good player, but with Juve third in Serie A, 10 points behind league-leading Inter Milan, and he will apparently fail to win the scudetto for the first time in 10 years. , there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he was ready for a job of this magnitude.
Agnelli has loaded his club with an expensive striker far above his best and with a coach whose inexperience is repeatedly exposed. It is puzzling why he is the man who seems to have been tasked with reassembling the Champions League. However, it is easily understandable that you want a format that guarantees the money of the great teams, so that they are less dependent on being well managed. Three years ago, Juve made a bewildering gamble and it has failed. The question now is who has to clean up the mess.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.