Just when you thought it was safe to go out, Juventus and Serie A controversy are mired together in the same sentence once again.
It was little over a month ago that Juventus were enjoying a day of celebration.
That was when the Turin club saw a 15 point Serie A penalty, imposed for false accounting, put on hold pending a new hearing.
That immediately promoted Max Allegri’s men from seventh in Serie A to third and they followed that up hours later with a draw at Sporting Lisbon, a result which earned them a place in the Europa League semi-finals.
Last week, however, Sevilla had too much for them in that competition and then yesterday arrived another double bombshell.
After the case was re-examined, so emerged a new ruling of a 10-point penalty.
Announced just before the team was about to play at Empoli, the mood could hardly have been worse as they took to the field and were beaten 4-1.
The punishment dropped them from second in Serie A to seventh place, outside the European qualification spots.
That, coupled with defeat, leaves them five points behind AC Milan, who occupy the final Champions League spot, with two games to play.
The club is also involved in criminal proceedings over its accounting practices, with 12 current and former officials potentially facing trial.
On top of that, the Italian Football Federation last week charged the club and seven former team directors with alleged fraud for the way they handled player salary cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.
The club again denies all wrongdoing.
Juve host Milan on Sunday.
On paper, they could have still qualified for the Champions League by winning the remaining three matches, but the heavy defeat in Tuscany means they need six points in the last two games of the season and hope their competitors don’t do the same.
Despite a rally in recent weeks, the news all but completes a miserable campaign for the ‘Old Lady’ who were dire in the Champions League and deservedly crashed out in the group stages, losing to Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain and Maccabi Haifa – an embarrassing early exit.
Unable to rely on players like Federico Chiesa, Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria for chunks of the season, Allegri can point to some mitigating factors but the Bianconeri have major work to do if they are to return to the top in Italy anytime again soon.
This season contrasts with rivals Inter Milan, who are through to the final of the Coppa Italia and Champions League, and runaway champions Napoli.
They say that Scudetti won outside Milan and Turin are worth at least double, so Napoli’s third triumph – and first since the era of the late, great Diego Armando Maradona – is something very special indeed.
I don’t know what the SBOTOP Serie A betting odds were on a Napoli title success at the beginning of the campaign but you can be sure they weren’t in the top two.
What they have since produced over the past nine months is Serie A (and Champions League) highlights galore.
Among many star men, the one who stands out for me is Victor Osimhen.
For me, no player contributed more to capturing that elusive crown than the Nigerian striker.
Having joined Napoli in July 2020 for a fee of around €81 million, a record for an African player, daily transfer rumours now link him with all of Europe’s biggest clubs for an even larger fee.
That he notched his 100th career goal, reaching the landmark faster than either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, tells you much about his pedigree.
If reports are correct, however, relationships between two other key figures in Naples are a little strained.
So much so, that manager Luciano Spalletti is expected to leave the club at the end of the season following tensions with president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
The Tuscan tactician practically confirmed his exit on Sunday, following a 3-1 win over Inter.
La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Spalletti is exhausted after two seasons in Naples.
A few weeks ago, Napoli activated an option to extend his contract until 2024, and the 64 year-old was less than pleased with the way the club confirmed his extension, as if he was any employee and not one of the men who contributed to the club’s first title triumph in 33 years.
Napoli have been linked with several options to replace him, including Luis Enrique and Antonio Conte, but whether they can replicate the bond he has with fans and, most crucially, his players will be no easy task.
His departure in this way certainly would mark a sad end to what has been a unforgettable season for Napoli.
De Laurentiis could soon have some explaining to do. Better to be in his shoes than those of Juventus right now though.
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