Netflix have set the standard on behind the scenes football documentaries, writes Dylan O’Neill
When Netflix first advertised their documentary, ‘Juventus: First Team’, in October, it seemed a bit odd. The reigning Italian champions were chasing European and domestic glory once more but this time they would have a camera crew following them everywhere they went, even at home. Why now? And why Juventus?
For non-football fans, Juventus are the most decorated club in Italian football history, currently seeking a seventh successive league title and a third European Cup. Prior to the recent Champions League encounters against Tottenham Hotspur, Juve had yet to concede a single goal in 2018. In fact, they had given up just one solitary goal in their last sixteen fixtures.
The documentary is revolutionary in that it is geared towards ventures on-and-off the field for the 33-time league champions and for Netflix, this is new ground for a football documentary. Previously HBO and NFL Films had broken similar ground with their Hard Knocks series, which saw a camera crew follow a chosen NFL team astutely throughout a given season. However, it’s important to note that very few of the Hard Knocks teams could be described as world-class, with none of the teams even gracing the hallowed turf of a Super Bowl showdown.
Journalists often refer to the Turin side as ‘la vecchia signora’ [the old lady] as a sign of respect and it’s easy to see why. As early as the 1930’s, coinciding with the Azzuri – Italy’s nickname for its national team – World Cup victory of 1934, Juventus were enjoying insurmountable success as football quickly became a popular pastime within Italy. Five successive championships were won during this decade; another 28 domestic league titles would follow, as would two European Cups. However, Juve’s continued success would often split the opinion of fans up and down the country. Money and success were never a pressing issue it seemed – which annoyed many — as the club was owned by car manufacturer FIAT and operated by the famed Agnelli family. Every decision they made seemed to bring success and like academic historian John Foot noted in his book ‘Calcio’: “They rarely went wrong in the transfer market, or in their choice of manager”.
“No club had ever allowed a camera crew behind closed doors, particularly a side of Juventus’ stature, so for a club steeped in so much history it’s glaringly obvious why Netflix opted to go in this direction.”
For Netflix, this was a coup. No club had ever allowed a camera crew behind closed doors, particularly a side of Juventus’ stature, so for a club steeped in so much history, it’s glaringly obvious why Netflix opted to go in this direction. Upon the announcement last October, Erik Barmack, vice-president of international original series at Netflix, said: “Netflix is the home of passionate storytelling, and there are no more passionate fans than tifosi of the bianconeri. We are excited to have unique, exclusive access to one of the most important squads in the world.”
The three-episode docu-series begins with a look back on the previous season. Domestic cup success was tasted twice. However, that magical third European Cup title remained elusive with a final defeat to Spanish giants Real Madrid, who secured the most lucrative European trophy in football for the twelfth time that night.
Chairman Andrea Agnelli stressed to the players that this season should not solely be based on redemption, saying that “to plan this season around the Champions League would be the wrong thing to do. The season”, he said, “is made out of every given week.”
The documentary itself covers many fascinating facets of life at Juventus, particularly what it takes to reach the upper echelons of this profession. In the various interviews conducted, from current veteran squad members such as midfielder Claudio Marchisio, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, as well as manager Massimiliano Allegri, to past greats of the club like top goal-scorer Alessandro Del Piero, it gives us an insight into how hardworking and dedicated one has to be in order to succeed at the highest level.
Vice-president and former player Pavel Nedved perhaps expressed this sentiment best during the mini-series when saying that “only few can manage” playing and conducting themselves consistently at a level as high as Juve’s – it would perhaps explain one reason why eccentric Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimović didn’t last longer than two seasons in Turin back in 2006.
The Bianconeri reaction to defeat also gives us an insight into how they have become the club they are today. Speaking about past losses to Barcelona and Lazio, who had broken Juventus’ 41-game two-year home unbeaten streak, vice-captain Giorgio Chiellini noted “these defeats we suffer now must be the catalyst that will push us to win in May. Victory may be a burden for some, but for us it is an obsession.”
The word obsession is often ascribed to many individuals who reside at the top of their respective fields. For Apple’s Steve Jobs, he was renowned for obsessing over even the smallest of details. Pep Guardiola, current Manchester City coach, is also driven by the same very obsession to be the best. For the Agnelli family, ever since they took ownership of the club in 1923, the mission was simple: take over a club that would make it, according to John Foot, “the greatest producer of victories in Italian football”. This has certainly been achieved with their closest domestic competitor being AC Milan, a team who have just 18 Scudetto’s – Italian league titles – compared to Juventus’ 33.
Alessandro Del Piero, when interviewed in episode two, noted the significance of wearing the famed black and white colours of Juventus. “There are no stronger colours than black or white”, he said with a smile etched across his face.
Perhaps he’s right, given the history.