Civil war at Juventus: How Ronaldo’s record transfer has failed to stop fan chaos

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The Bianconeri may have signed the Portuguese superstar last summer but a civil war has broken out among fans over an earlier rise in ticket prices

Moise Kean's delightful double should have been the most noteworthy aspect of Juventus' otherwise routine 4-1 victory over Serie A rivals Udinese on Friday night.

Sadly, what was happening off the field at the Allianz Stadium was of far greater interest.

At regular intervals during the game, a significant number of Juventini turned on their fellow fans.

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"You're a s *** crowd!" bellowed out of the Curva Sud, where the club’s hardcore element congregate.

Incensed, the rest of the stadium responded by drowning out the chant with boos and whistles.

It was Juve fan against Juve fan; civil war at the Old Lady's own stadium.

On a night when Juve fans should have been brought together by the thrilling exploits of their 19-year-old striker, they instead turned on one another.

Sadly, this did not come as a surprise. It has been coming for some time.

Only last month, an ultra was caught on camera berating his fellow fans for cheering a goal by Juve forward Paulo Dybala.

That is how bad things have become: some 'fans' would rather stay silent in order to make a point, than show their appreciation for the team that they are, by definition, meant to support.

Juventus fans

It is an utterly bizarre situation but, like every other issue in football, it is about money (and power).

Juve's ultras have essentially gone on strike, ostensibly, over the club's decision to increase ticket prices across the board by approximately 30 per cent last summer. Even the subsequent €100 million acquisition of global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo didn't appease them.

Indeed, despite the hysteria provoked by the Portuguese's shock arrival from Real Madrid, Juve ultras boycotted the annual pre-season friendly between the club's senior squad and its B team in Villar Perosa.

It would be the venue for Ronaldo's first unofficial appearance for the Bianconeri but the ultras didn't care; they were too upset by the ticket price hike. Only, there is more to it than that.

In reality, ticket prices are really only the tip of an iceberg that very nearly sank Juve president Andrea Agnelli two years ago.

Since leaving their temporary, community-owned, 80,000-seater Stadio Olimpico home in 2011 for their own, brand-new 41,000-capacity Allianz Stadium, Juve matches have become the hottest ticket in town.

But not just in Turin. Juve really are Italy's club; fans flock from as far away as Sicily to watch them play.

Their subsequent success (seven consecutive Scudetti) – which can be partially attributed to the benefits of both owning and playing in a louder, more enclosed English-style arena – has sent the value of tickets soaring.

While it is hardly surprising that Juve exploited the fact that there was more money than ever before to be made off their fans – that is, sadly, how the modern game works – the ultras and other more nefarious groups also quickly identified the potential for generating massive profits from selling tickets on the black market.

Juventus fans

As so often happens in Italian football, compromises were made. In exchange for their continued support, the ultras were given special concessions when it came to ticket allocations.

It was a system inadvertently made for ticket-touting.

The practice of selling regular tickets for extortionate prices was quickly embraced by men with connections with organised crime, including the Ndrangheta, the infamous Calabrese mafia group.

Unfortunately, the lines between ultras and criminals have long been blurred; differentiating between the two is undeniably difficult.

Andrea Agnelli still maintains he knew nothing about Rocco Dominello’s connections with the mafia when he met with the Ndrangheta member at numerous fan functions.

Regardless, Agnelli was banned from football for a year by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in September 2017 after being found guilty of "endorsing, or in any case not preventing" certain ultras, including Dominello, from obtaining Juve tickets with a view to selling them on the black market.

Agnelli’s suspension was ultimately reduced to ‘time served’ and a fine of €100,000 in December of that year, but Juve were ordered to pay €600,000 and play a Serie A game behind closed doors at the start of 2018.

While Juve correctly pointed out that the authorities had found no links with organised crime, the case illustrated their uncomfortable complicity with ultra groups’ ticket-touting.

The club have since tried strenuously to clean up their image by taking a hard-line stance on the ultras. The ticket hike could well be interpreted as an attempt to price them out of the stadium. Certainly, the ultras no longer feel valued.

Thus, they have attempted to remind everyone of their importance by essentially killing the atmosphere at Juve games, either by refusing to turn up or by remaining silent up until the 39th minute of games, when they remember the 39 fans who lost their lives at Heysel in 1985.

Andrea Agnelli Juventus fans

Those measures have regularly resulted in eerie, Highbury-like atmospheres in Turin this season.

Now, though, the ultras and regular supporters are essentially at war, with both sides blaming the other for the lack of noise.

The ultras believe that they should have been backed by their fellow fans over the increase in ticket prices for 2018-19, while the regular supporters feel that the ultras are only upset because they are no longer getting cheap or free tickets.

Only last weekend, graffiti appeared outside of the Allianz Stadium labelling Agnelli a "worm", his directors "incompetent" and the rest of the club's fans "a bunch of puppets, slaves of Agnelli".
 
It is against this backdrop of division and acrimony that Juve will welcome Atletico Madrid to the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday for the second leg of a Champions League last-16 tie that they presently trail 2-0 on aggregate.

Juve's directors, coaches and players have been at pains to point out how crucial home support will be in their bid to turn things around against Diego Simeone's formidable team.

"It’s possible, but we need your help to make the stadium beautiful, everyone together," Cristiano Ronaldo emphasised. "We need your help, as we’ll try to do our job on the pitch, try to score goals and win the game, and we need your support."

The Curva Sud Drughi ultras group have already said they intend to suspend their strike for the Atletico game but, as they made clear, it is little more than a ceasefire.

There will be more empty seats and deathly silences at the Allianz Stadium between now and the end of the season. We could even see Juve fans again rowing among themselves.

A tense, hostile environment is almost guaranteed against Atletico; just maybe not the kind Juve would have wanted.

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