On Thursday evening in the Dublin suburb of Tallaght, history will be made. Shamrock Rovers, a club that not many outside of Ireland will be familiar with, will play host to one of the powerhouses of Seria A, Juventus. In July of last year, amid much fanfare, Rovers played the ‘Galacticos’ of Real Madrid in a friendly match which was seen by many as the rebirth of a club that in the previous decade had experienced relegation from the Premier League and entered into examiner-ship.
For a period of almost ten years anyone that passed through Tallaght would have noticed the ugly concrete shell that was the partially completed stadium of Shamrock Rovers. This grim semi-completed structure was a symbol of the turmoil that the club was experiencing at the time and without the loyal support and financial aid of the supporters group the “400 club” Ireland’s most decorated club side (with a record 14 League Titles and 24 FAI cup titles) may have ceased to exist.
The fact that Shamrock Rovers came so close to extinction makes the visit of Juventus such a significant event. The Hoops chairman Jonathan Roche, a Tallaght local was in dreamland following their 1-0 away victory against Israeli side Bnei Yehuda in the second leg of the previous round.
“This will be one of the biggest games in the club’s history. We played Manchester United and the Busby Babes in the past, we played Bayern Munich and played Celtic in the 1980s but Juventus in Tallaght will be something else. A year ago we had Real Madrid for a friendly, now it’s Juve in a competitive game. It doesn’t get much better.”
So this truly is a clash of David and Goliath proportions. Last year prior to the Hoops friendly with Real Madrid it was reported that while Ronaldo was expected to earn around £154,000-a-week with Madrid, Shamrock Rovers’ wage bill for the entire 22-man squad was just £12,800-a-week.
Gary Twigg who finished the 2009 season as the top scorer in the League of Ireland with 24 goals is one of the only full-time professionals and reportedly earns £850-a-week during the season. Compare this with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero who earn in excess of £4m per annum and one cannot deny the gulf in size of these clubs.
Nevertheless, as anyone who has a passing interest in Serie A will know, Juventus have not been without their problems in recent years and La Vecchia Signora is still recovering from the Calciopoli scandal that saw the club relegated to Serie B in 2006. Following the false dawn of the 2007–2008 season where Claudio Ranieri led the club to 3rd place in their first return season in Serie A, Juve now finds itself under the stewardship of its fourth manager in three years, Luigi Delneri. The man who led Sampdoria to Champions League qualification last season has a massive job on his hands and all eyes will be on Juve’s first competitive game on Thursday night.
So far in pre-season Juventus have performed reasonably well and the 2-1 victory over Lyon last weekend where Diego showed some of the magic that he is capable of and new signings Motta and Pepe also impressed will have given the squad a much needed boost in confidence.
Juventus do have some injury concerns leading into the game against Rovers. Center-halves Leonardo Bonucci (knee injury) and Nicola Legrottaglie (flu) are slight doubts. This is an area Juve can ill afford to be without their strongest players where the physical approach of Shamrock Rovers (especially around set pieces) may cause the Juventus defense some problems.
The fact that the Irish side are in the middle of their domestic season will also mean that they will be in prime physical condition, however the difference in quality should prove too much in the end and the Italian giants would be hoping to bring back a lead to Modena (where the game will be played because U2 have a concert scheduled in the Stadio Olimpico in Turin on the same day) for next weeks return leg.
Whatever happens on Thursday in Tallaght, the fervent capacity crowd of 6,000 should be in for a night to remember when two clubs steeped in history that happen to share a lot in common (in terms of historical success and recent demise) will no doubt produce a game that will go into the football folklore of the Emerald Isle and who knows might even leave some Irish eyes smiling.