x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Loyalists are back in love with the Old Lady

Nine Italians were in the Juventus line-up who finished the match against their Serie A opponents, Palermo.

Which is the most popular team in Italy? The traditional answer tends to be Juventus. But Juve's status as the club claiming widest loyalty across the peninsula has taken a hammering in recent years.

They have not recovered all the scarf-buying, subscription-owning fans who turned their backs on the "Old Lady" - Juve's nickname - after the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, which led to Juventus being relegated to Serie B.

So who is really the most widely loved football team from Italy? Of course it's Italy themselves, the Azzurri.

The best team in Serie A at the moment are Juventus. They are no longer the Juventus of corrupting directors and administrators but still a club who incite suspicion and fierce rivalry among those who are not die-hard loyalists.

And, for about the first time in five years, to be a patriotic supporter of Italy is proving difficult for the anti-Juventus brigade.

Man for man, Juventus are resembling more and more closely the national team. All three Juve goals in the 3-0 win over Palermo, the result that put Juventus top of Serie A, came from players who had been with the national squad the previous two weeks - Simone Pepe, Claudio Marchisio and Alex Matri. Nine Italians were in the Juve XI who finished the match.

It is scarcely imaginable that a modern Inter or AC Milan would contribute like that to the national interest. So the Italians who are instinctively anti-Juve must grit their teeth and bear it.