Blog Written by Joe Pizziferri (@_joepiz)
That quote from the classic movie A Bronx Tale jumped into my mind when looking at the weekend schedule in Serie A and seeing the marquee matchup of Juventus vs. Sassuolo. On one side you have the Bianconeri who approach every season not only hoping to contend for titles, but expecting to win. Claiming the Scudetto five straight years and favored to make it six, they are without a doubt the club feared in Italy. Coming to Turin to visit on Saturday are Sassuolo. They have become the trendy pick to make some noise not only in Italy, but also in Europa League competition after qualifying in resounding fashion this summer. Whether a neutral observer or an Ultra supporting another team, you are hard pressed to dislike them. The Neroverdi might be the closest thing to universally loved on the peninsula.
Both are in enviable positions, but back to the question at hand, which is better? If we go by Sonny’s philosophy in A Bronx Tale, it is fear. Perhaps the wise choice for a fictional mob boss, but not 100% applicable for club supporters. Put yourself in the shoes of a Juventus fan (if not there already). With their much-publicized activity on the transfer market anything less than another Scudetto and a deep run in Champions League (at least semi-finals) will be perceived as a failure. If expectations are met, it is more relief than euphoria. Winning the Champions League could change it to euphoria, but that is a tall task for any European power.
Pep Guardiola’s reign at Bayern Munich is looked upon as a failure in some circles due to only winning Bundesliga handily and reaching the Champions League semi-finals in all of his three terms in charge. The great Carlo Ancelotti was dismissed from Real Madrid after his injury riddled side finished 2nd to an all-time great Barcelona side in the 2015 La Liga campaign and came up short against Juventus in the UCL semis. Not completely outrageous, but as it followed his 2014 Champions League title and Copa Del Rey from the season before, a bit harsh.
Now let’s look at the situation from Sassuolo’s perspective. Toiling away in Serie C a decade ago and admirably working their way up to the Italian top flight, supporters were satisfied just to avoid relegation in 2014 and 2015. The 2016 season saw them finish high enough for European qualification and become the darlings of hardcore international soccer aficionados in the process with an attractive style of play. A squad full of young - largely Italian - talent, the future looks bright. No doubt their goals are to win the Scudetto and Europa League, but Sassuolo would be happy to qualify for Europe again. Achievable goals, and should head coach Di Francesco’s side accomplish more by putting a scare in the traditional powers for the last Champions League qualification spot or making a deep Europa League run, euphoria. From a fans point of view it’s all upside.
So, lovable underdog or feared giant? No right or wrong answer, only personal preference. After all, every fan dreams of seeing their team perform well enough to be proclaimed the best. However, once that level of success becomes the rule rather than the exception, it’s more stressful than enjoyable. Hoping for that status to be maintained becomes a burden compared to the joy experienced in watching it being reached in the first place. At this moment Sassuolo supporters want to reach the level of Juventus, but if they ever did, they just might look back on these days as the most fun time of their fandom.