It's impossible to forget the first time I watched Juventus. It was a predictably woeful November evening in 1995 when the Italian giant turned up to Glasgow, Scotland, for a UEFA Champions League group game against my team, Rangers. Although underdogs, Rangers still had a capable side packed with international players, and despite losing 4-1 in the away fixture a few weeks previously, harbored at least an outside chance of causing an upset in front of its vociferous home support.
At least that's what some thought. Despite a valiant resistance early on, the Bianconeri would wind up comfortable 4-0 winners, dishing out a ruthless lesson in cold-blooded, brutally graceful football. Six months later, Juventus would go on to win the competition for the second time. They were undoubtedly the best team on earth.
Juventus' performance that night could be read as emblematic of its wider ethos. Every sports team wants to win, but some win more than others. Juve has always been a relentless winning machine.
Affectionately known as la Vecchia Signora, or the Old Lady, Juventus is Italian football's biggest and most decorated club in domestic terms with 35 league titles. Success is coded in its DNA — the Turinese behemoth is famed for its merciless pragmatism, dispatching opponents with the efficiency of a particularly adroit hitman. "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," goes one of those awful sports platitudes. Yet historically, it's an appropriate mantra for Juventus, given how the team has traditionally found glory by sacrificing entertaining aesthetics in favor of defensive pragmatism.
But football is changing, and so is Juventus. Serie A's Cantenaccio has been left in the past. Winning is still paramount, but winning in style? That's the ultimate goal.
Plenty has been made about the globalization of football and how the game is now a gargantuan business. Hearts and minds are not only to be won in Turin, but Tokyo and Texas, too. It's something the Agnelli family-backed Juventus knows too well, undertaking an extensive rebranding project in recent times to fully realize its international potential. Juve has always been immaculate — see how the players used to turn up for games sharp-suited, looking like old school movie stars who had wandered off a movie set — but now it boasts an ineffable cool. It has a slick new badge and kit design; it has a streetwear line; it has a manager who loves attractive football; and it has some of the world's biggest superstars. Oh, and it also has that pink kit.
But more importantly, unlike some of its petrodollar-backed rivals, Juventus has a history. A story that can't be bought. There's always been an ineffable romance about the club — something that makes them hard to not respect, even when you're watching them thrash your own team.
Joining Juventus on its UEFA Champions League opening away fixture against Atletico Madrid, Highsnobiety was given an all-access look at the scale of the club's operation. It's not just the first team aboard the chartered flight to Spain's capital, but the youth team, the digital department, bureaucratic officials, and fans and VIP guests, too. It feels a bit like traveling with a rock band on an arena tour. There's also a tangible family atmosphere in the air: prior to the flight taking off, goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon introduces new signings Matthijs de Ligt and Aaron Ramsey to the fans, before stand-in captain Leonardo Bonucci comes by to say hi. Even Cristiano Ronaldo makes himself known to some of the youth players, no doubt on hand with some advice.
As for the game itself? The first half passes by largely uneventful, but the second 45 is a bonafide classic. Juan Cuadrado puts Juventus ahead, before Blaise Matuidi adds another. Things are going well — perhaps too well — and buoyed on by the fervent home crowd in its awe-inspiring new Wanda Metropolitano arena, Atletico grabs one back, only to then salvage a point with a last-minute equalizer. The team and crew look disappointed given the manner of the draw, but it's still a respectable enough result.
Having already opened the doors on the Juventus Stadium, J Museum, J Medical, and the J Village, it's clear Juventus is thinking big — it wants to make the Juventus and "J" brand a household fixture worldwide, not only in Europe. After witnessing how the wider team functions up close, there's a sense that, on its current trajectory, it's only a matter of time before that's the case. Juventus has always been one of the best clubs in the world. Now it just might be the coolest.