Manu’s handbag: last goodbyes

Juventus snuffed out another three-point chance in a 2-2 draw with Lazio on Monday night after allowing a stoppage-time equalizer.

/extreme voice of Mike Francesa/

We do not care?

The thousands and thousands of Juventus fans at the Allianz Stadium and the millions of others watching at home from around the world weren’t tuning in to watch this hugely disappointing version of the Bianconeri play the chain of a lost season.

They were watching to say goodbye to two fan favorites who were playing their final home game at the Allianz Stadium. Juventus could have won the game by five goals or lost it by 10, it really didn’t matter. Whatever happened, it was Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala’s fan appreciation night. After all was said and done, the game was arguably the least important thing to happen on the pitch.

Let’s cook.

Defensive Player of the Week: Giorgio Chiellini

Sure, he only played 17 minutes, but that was all he needed to earn the Grab Bag points for Monday night’s game. #TheGr3atGiorgio was the theme of the night, and as absurd as it sounded and sounded, a goofy hashtag on social media was the least the club could do to honor one of Juventus’ greatest legends of all time. .

I’m sure a lot of people would have liked to see him play for 90 minutes and enjoy every remaining second of Chiellini in a black and white shirt. But, then again, what remains to be seen of one of the greatest defenders to ever wear the stripes?

Chiellini was not always an elite centre-back. In his 17-year history at Juve, he only started playing in mid defense in the first season back in Serie A – out of necessity more than anything else – and still occasionally came on as a substitute. left-back for a few more years. But it speaks to his endless quality that after he finally started playing exclusively as a centre-back, you could have sworn he had been playing there since birth.

In my arguments with friends, Chiellini was the only asset I always had. Of course, we could talk about circles around the best midfielders or strikers. About Messi vs Ronaldo. About free-kick takers, full-backs and wingers. But there was never an argument to just say “Of course, but Juve have the best defense.” How could we do better? In their prime, Chiellini, Leo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli were as good as they come. They were the proverbial immovable object that held back some of the best attacking talent of their era until their worst days in office.

Chiellini’s body betrayed him sooner than his talent and mind. Even in his final years as a Juve player – whenever injuries permitted – he was still as capable as anyone of single-handedly stopping the world’s best strikers in their tracks.

Monday’s game wasn’t necessarily about seeing one of the best ever to have one more attacking showdown. Or throw in some crisp tackles. Or even get a bloody bandage on your head as a reminder of the good old days. It was about giving a player who gave absolutely everything he had to give for the club a well-deserved farewell.

Chiellini achieved all the last things he could have done with Juventus, and with no regrets left the club to the acclaim of thousands. Everyone should be so lucky to be able to do what they did and leave the mark they did. He was Juventus’ go-to outfield player for an entire generation and although his impact on the pitch this season wasn’t what it was at its peak, he will surely be missed.

(He should have been captain for much longer, but what are you going to do when Gianluigi Buffon – arguably Juve’s MVP – shares the same dressing room with you for pretty much your entire career?)

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (17 Points)

Exit left for La Joya

One of the most Chiellini things about Monday night’s proceedings was how happy he looked. Laughing when he was substituted, happily hugging his teammates and fans as he took his lap of honor. Laughing as old highlights played in his tribute video. He felt like a proud and satisfied graduate of all he had accomplished and wanted to take it all in. One could hardly describe the mood as sad. It was a party and that’s what it should have been given the way Chiellini left the club.

It was certainly the opposite for the other long-serving Juventus member who was making his final home appearance. All the drama that accompanied Dybala’s impending departure from Juve is already well known. The long and tortuous contract negotiation process, the close calls, the numerous reports of a deal in the works, the very little deal done, and the unceremonious – and relatively acrimonious – withdrawal of the contract offer of last minute.

After Dybala took the captain’s armband from Chiellini – once the former was ceremoniously substituted in the 17th minute – he went on to play another great game. To be the offensive pivot of a team that desperately needs it. After Dusan Vlahovic scored the opener and celebrated Dybala’s trademark, you could tell how Joya meant to his teammates as they all gathered to celebrate.

(One of the weirdest accounts of Dybala’s later years was that he wasn’t fit to be captain because he was never a particularly vocal or fiery guy. If all the tokens of appreciation that he received from his teammates – even the new ones like Vlahovic – don’t put this narrative to rest, I don’t know what will. He was as beloved of a teammate as they come, and that’s probably a good example that you don’t always have to be the most vocal person in a room to be a leader.)

Once Dybala was substituted, his reaction was very different from Chiellini’s. He was stoic, fighting back tears as he hugged his teammates. There were no smiles, no awkward dancing. He had the face of a man who wanted to prolong these last minutes as much as possible and who couldn’t believe what was happening.

During his lap of honor, Dybala still refused to smile as he took selfies with fans, signed every piece of paper and fabric thrown his way and shook hands with every man, woman and child like a child. presidential candidate. Once the game was over and Chiellini’s video tribute finished, his teammates hoisted the Juve No.10 into the air as he finally burst into tears while receiving a final round of applause from of Bianconeri loyal.

(Chiellini’s farewell video and celebration was very nice and I’m sure he enjoyed it, but the raw emotion of teammates and fans giving Dybala their due was 1,000% more touching. is the one thing that Juve’s slick new image, social media campaigns, silly hashtags and contrived emotions have never been able to get right. And probably never will.)

And after all, that’s the big difference between the two farewells. Chiellini is the oldest statesman who did everything under the sun until he had nothing left to give. He will surely be remembered in Juve’s pantheon of greats and his accomplishments in the black and white stripes – in every way – will eclipse Dybala once all is said and done.

But, Dybala is the unfinished story, the player who should have been able to do so much more with this team until tactical adjustments, injuries, a change in hierarchy and a ruthless contract renewal process made him expendable. . His exit hurts more because we all knew there was still a lot on the table for him as a stalwart of this club. As a guy who came in as a prospect and became a captain capable player.

His tears as he received a final round of applause at the stadium in which he is the all time top scorer betrayed one fact and one fact only. What was left to accomplish. That he won’t be able to do that now. This time has passed. And that he is deeply, painfully aware of this fact.

(These two playing just one half of football in a doomed season will forever be one of the biggest “What Ifs” for Juve fans everywhere.)

Farewell shot of the week

As old idols emerge, new ones appear.

It’s football, it’s life. It’s cyclical, nothing is like yesterday. And there was a certain sense of synchrony as Matthijs de Ligt – Chiellini’s heir apparent – was replaced by the veteran captain and shortly after the game it was widely rumored that de Ligt would sign an extension to stay with Juventus for the foreseeable. future.

There were also at one point three young players on the pitch when Fabio Miretti started the game with Marley Ake and Martin Palumbo as substitutes. Their careers are just beginning, but the hope – as with any young player – is that in seven, 10 or 15 years they will also be strolling along the walls of the Allianz Stadium waving to adoring fans as they saw their two otherworldly talented teammates do it on Monday. .

There’s a popular saying that watching sports is rooted for laundry, and to some extent, that’s correct. Most of us will continue to cheer on Juventus long after our favorite players have left the team, but there’s no denying that those same players are the ones who make you live and die with their actions. That we can all pinpoint the exact moment we fell in love with the game because of the on-field performances of a group of individuals and that when those players move, part of our fandom moves with them.

For many fans Giorgio Chiellini was one of those players and for many others Paulo Dybala was too.

We see each other on Saturday.

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