Juventus trio proving there's life after United
Tevez, Pogba and Evra all crucial in Old Lady's renaissance
Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30
It was one of Manchester United's great conceits that whenever any footballer left Old Trafford they were headed in only one direction. Once out of the shadow of the Stretford End, they would discover a cold world out there.
This evening five men who left Manchester United for differing reasons have a chance of a European Cup final while the club they left behind makes a flailing attempt to finish fourth - a position that would cost any manager of Real Madrid or Juventus his job. Three of them - Paul Pogba, Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez - have played their part in what has been an astonishing footballing rebirth.
Yesterday evening Tevez walked into the Juventus Stadium's press room wearing a lime-green polo shirt, blue Bermuda shorts and trainers. He looked like he had stepped off a golf course that doesn't have a dress code.
He laughed a lot and you could understand why. He will become the first Juventus player since the sainted Alessandro del Piero to become Serie A's leading goalscorer. He has won championships in four countries with five different clubs.
In the aftermath of Saturday's 1-0 victory at Sampdoria that sealed the title with four games to go, the Juventus general manager, Beppe Marotta, indicated that Tevez would probably get his wish to return to Buenos Aires, where he has said, half-seriously, he could see himself becoming president of Boca Juniors. If so, he would be asked to wear a suit.
Tevez is frank enough to admit that this Juventus side that has fought its way through to the semi-finals of the European Cup for the first time since their relegation in 2006, amid the shame of the match-fixing scandals, was nothing like the United side that had won the trophy seven years before.
"They were a fantastic team, with Ronaldo, Giggs, Rooney, Ferdinand and Scholes," he said. "This team is different, it is more like Atletico Madrid were last year - very difficult to beat."
It is one in which Tevez has shone. In a wide-ranging interview with 'La Repubblica' before the semi-final, the Argentine admitted he had enjoyed his time at United rather more than at City. "At Manchester City I was wrong," he said. "There was no trust between us and I reacted by disappearing. I know I behaved badly."
Juventus are not a forgiving club. When Carlo Ancelotti took over from Marcello Lippi in 1999 he was met with slogans on the walls of the unloved and now abandoned Stadio delle Alpi that proclaimed: "Pigs Can't Coach".
Yesterday, in a very different stadium, the man who is attempting to become the first manager since 1990 to retain the European Cup was told that Andrea Pirlo had described him as "a father to me". The Real Madrid manager, who is 20 years older, said he preferred to think of Pirlo as a brother.
When, at the start of this season, Massimiliano Allegri took over from Antonio Conte - who had played for Juventus when they won the European Cup in 1996 and coached them from the abyss of relegation to three championships - he was pelted with eggs as he drove to the training ground.
Both Tevez and Pirlo argued that what Allegri had brought with him - aside from a messy car - was a sense of freedom. "We made a kind of deal," said Tevez. "When I get the ball, I can do pretty much what I like, but when we defend I follow instructions."
Under Conte, Juventus made little impact in the Champions League. "In his three seasons there was something missing," Pirlo said. "Perhaps we weren't ready but this year we have grown up and played without fear. If I could finish my career in Turin with a Champions League medal, it would crown a dream." The final is in Berlin, where Pirlo lifted the 2006 World Cup.
To overcome the club he called "the best and most prestigious in the world", Pirlo argued that Juventus had to be both "canny and above all cocky". It would be pointless playing for a goalless draw against the sheer firepower Real Madrid bring to bear, with Gareth Bale likely to return.
If they are to reach the final, Juventus require a lead to take to the Bernabeu. After the goalless draw in Monaco that saw them through to this stage, Evra remarked with some satisfaction: "We played like an Italian team, solid and ugly". They will need something more tonight.
For the second leg, Pogba might have recovered from the hamstring injury that meant he missed the climax to Serie A. Where he finds himself next season is perhaps the biggest single question Juventus have to answer. Anyone who wants to take him to Manchester or Madrid would need upwards of £50m. Marotta's response was that he knew there were big clubs looking at Pogba, the player Alex Ferguson let go because he thought him a greedy young man after too much money, but Juventus were a big club too.
When they last faced Real Madrid in a match of this magnitude, the 1998 European Cup final in Amsterdam, Juventus were a very big club and playing their fourth successive final. In the 17 years since there has been one more, a sterile goalless draw at Old Trafford won by Milan, managed by the pig that could not coach.
Juventus v Real Madrid, live, ITV/TV3, 7.45