Why would a team called Juventus sport the colours of their fierce rivals, and what have they got to do with the most beautiful goal from the game’s greatest ever player? Brazilian journalist Bruno Rodrigues takes a trip to Sao Paulo.
The name ‘Juventus’ resonates as a synonym for strength and greatness in the football world. With a fantastic new stadium, the team has been dominating Italian football with ease for years. The dream to once again achieve glory in Europe also seems to be just a few inches away, being the runners-up in two of the last three Champions League finals. However in Brazil, and especially in São Paulo, the name ‘Juventus’ could mean a totally different type of football. A football of those more romantic days, when stadiums looked much simpler and were far away from the glamour and financial power of the international tournaments. We’re talking about a different kind of Juve.
Founded in 1924, Juventus is a club from Mooca, a neighbourhood historically connected to the Italian colony in the city. Nicknamed Moleque Travesso (the Prankster Boy), the team has generally competed regionally but achieved its greatest moment in 1983, when it won the Second Division of the National Championship. Nevertheless, that wider Brazilian adventure didn’t last long and nowadays the club plays in the lower ranks of the Paulista state championship.
For those who encounter the club for the first time, especially foreign football fans, a curious fact draws big attention: how does a club named Juventus play with the colours of Torino, two fierce rivals in Italy? There’s a historical explanation to it.
The Juventus uniform
According to popular belief – including among fans of the club – Juventus founder, Mr. Conde Rodolfo Crespi, was Italian and a big fan of the Bianconeri of Turin but needed to please some members of his family who were supporters of the Granata, Torino. His solution was naming the club Juventus but making the shirts Torino-like. But just half of this story is true.
Mr. Crespi was indeed Italian and a supporter of the ‘Old Lady’ but his Sao Paulo side was originally called Cotonifício Rodolfo Crespi FC, as the institution was basically formed from the workers of the textile factory of the same name which he owned. When they decided to change the club’s name in 1930, Mr. Crespi was quick to suggest Clube Atlético Juventus. The uniform, however, needed a change too, as other clubs – such as Corinthians and Santos – were also wearing black and white like Rodolfo Crespi FC. Someone came up with the idea of a very different colour, one that no other football club in São Paulo was wearing. But it had nothing – or little – to do with Torino.
As some members of Mr. Crespi’s family were, in fact, Fiorentina supporters, it seemed fair for the Juventino patron to combine the name of his beloved club with a uniform that resembled that of the Florence institution. The colour which came closest to Fiorentina’s viola was the burgundy that has since made history as one of Brazilian football’s most unusual kits.
A matchday at Javari
Watching a game at Rua Javari, home of Juventus, is a totally different experience compared to a matchday at of one of the big clubs in the sprawling Brazilan metropolis. To supporters of Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo, 40,000+ capacity stadiums are the norm, but Javari caters for around 4,000. It doesn’t have floodlights, so the games cannot take place at night. Almost every section of the stadium, with the exception of a few covered seats on the main tribune, are made up of terraces, so the majority of fans watch the game standing.
The local gastronomy also hasn’t leave its Italian roots behind. The main highlight among the food options is the cannolis of Mr. Antônio, a must-have at half time. The queue to get your hands on these sweets snakes round to the main entrance of Javari and those who leave it too late it to join run the risk of leaving the stadium without tasting the famous pastry.
Back from the cannoli line, the football action takes place just a few inches from the barrier that separates the field from the terraces. Linesmen and referees suffer with constant verbal abuse from supporters, who also take advantage of their proximity to the pitch to ask reporters about the Juventus line-up in case they missed it pre-match. Players from rival teams taking throw-ins or those who come off the bench for a warm-up also gain special attention from the hosts. It’s football in its purest form.
El Flaco Menotti
Before crowning himself champion of the world coaching Argentina in 1978, and becoming one of the most brillant minds in the history of football, César Luis Menotti had a career as a player lasting 10 years or so. After playing for Rosario Central, Boca Juniors and Racing in Argentina and a brief adventure in United States, “El Flaco” (Skinny) came to Brazil to play for Pelé’s Santos. They won the regional state championship in 1968 and the following year, the Argentinian signed for Juventus, where he ended his career after the 1969 season.
At Mooca, Menotti failed to make much of an impact. His biggest achievement came in a game against São Bento, a team from the city of Sorocaba, in which he scored two goals in a 4-1 Juventina win. His second – according to the historians – came from a beautiful bicycle kick on the edge of the penalty box. It was the kind of goal that would have made coach Menotti proud some years later.
Pelé’s most beautiful goal
Maybe the biggest story involving Juventus includes the best player of all time. It was at Rua Javari that Pelé scored what is considered, even by himself, his most beautiful goal among more than a thousand he recorded over the course of his career.
There’s no footage of it, not even seconds of video, just a photo that shows ‘The King of Football’ heading the ball to the back of the net. In the biopic Pelé Eterno (Eternal Pelé), the film crew managed to digitally recreate the goal, showing the number 10 receiving the ball at the edge of the area, lobbing three defenders and then, face to face with goalkeeper ‘Mão de Onça (Jaguar’s Hands)’, producing another chip over Juve’s number 1 before finishing with a more or less free header.
There are so many people who claim to have witnessed this particular goal that if we counted all of those fans, Rua Javari would have a capacity it could never accomodate – room enough for around 60,000. That would have almost made it a Maracanã, a ground where years later ‘O Rei’ achieved another historical landmark, scoring the thousandth goal of his career, in 1969. On that day, however, even the biggest stadium in Brazil was too small to house everybody who said they were watching the penalty, and witnessing history, from the terraces. It was the day that the Maracanã turned into a big Rua Javari.