“This isn’t painful. Getting shot is painful. Getting stabbed in the ribs is painful. This...isn’t painful. It’s empty. Dead.”  

— – James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, in conversation with psychiatrist Dr Melfi.

The episode opens with a close-up of club director Andrea Agnelli’s panicked face. His nose snorts macaroni and gravy as he breathes in heavily. He sputters, but tries his best not to struggle. We find out why, when the camera pans out. His face is being mushed down on a plate in a shady pizzeria by the grubby, hairy, forceful hand of Tony Soprano. The mob boss has made his position on Juventus’ logo redesign abundantly clear.

In an alternate reality, Tony Soprano is an international member and patron of Tradizione Bianconera, a group of Juventini ultras, and he flew in to his homeland like he does in the episode of Commendatori in season two, to address some pressing matters.

If this seems surreal, it would best resemble what Juventus fans would be feeling with the news over the past week, which seems like something out of a badly-designed dream. “Pi**take,” commented Kevin Prota on Vice Italy. “I did not want to believe it,” said the Juventus fan, who just a day before the announcement on January 16, 2017, has had the circa 2004 emblem tattooed on his scapula. The re-envisioning of a 122-year-old symbol has left hardened fans with bile gushing to the base of their throats; taking to social media to eulogise the death of a long-enduring heritage. The furore, you will find, is a bit silly once you finish reading the next few paragraphs.

Demystifying club crests

Ubi fides ibi lux et robur (Faith begets light and strength), Vincit Omnia Industria (Industry overcomes odds), Vim promovitinsatum (Promoting inner power) – these Latin dictums may seem befitting the kingly Real Madrid or the priestly Vatican City FC, when in fact, they are adorned by Tranmere Rovers, Bury, and Bristol City respectively. Football clubs take themselves a bit too seriously when it comes to exuding a faux sense of dynasty, and exceeding antiquity, despite the fact that the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield Football Club, dates back to 1857 – hardly medieval. Gillingham FC’s proclamation of Domusclamantium, which means “The Home of the Shouting Men”, may be one of the more honest mottos in the game. The club motto is essentially the only bit of Latin an average football fan knows.

In many ways, the club crest plays the part of a tribal totem, one which is to be protected, and the values, which are the accompanying mottos, aspired to. One of the fundamental functions of these emblems is to impart a sense of regional identity with roots in the community and its livelihood, with colours and the basic shape often borrowed from a coat of arms from the town or the corresponding locality: Manchester United’s logo has a three-mast freighter peeking out on top, cheekily immortalising the city knocking Liverpool off the perch as England’s premier port; Arsenal’s cannon is a throwback to the days the munition workers from British Army and Royal Navy ordnance depot in Woolwich decided to have a team.

Heraldic animals, mythical or natural, mostly stylised regularly feature on a club insignia. Lions (Chelsea, Brisbane Roar), birds of prey (Crystal Palace, Benfica) and predators form the majority of the demographic, flaunting values of ferocity and ruthlessness; while on the other side of the spectrum, dogs (Club Tijuana), rams (Derby County), sheep (Preston North End), swans (Swansea), horse (Ipswich), bull (Torino) and the likes cater to the image of nobility, loyalty, diligence, and grace.

The sticking point in Juventus’ redesign was the removal of the bull of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a lasting symbol of the city of Turin, thus interpreted as an attrition against tradition.

Deconstructing the legacy

The bull of Turin features on the flag and the coat of arms of their comune, or township, not just once, but four times. Under the banner of comune di Torino, the Royals of the House of Savoy, Turin became the capital of Sardinia, later the first capital of a unified Italy in 1861, and came to be known as “the cradle of Italian liberty”. The bull mosaic of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is represented with big genitals, denoting masculinity and fertility, and it is said to bring good luck. Italian women and men flock by the thousands each month to touch the genitals in the hope of being blessed with a child. Therefore, the imagery of the steer not only harks back to a great past, but also local tradition that still finds itself embedded in the present.

Flag of Turin. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Flag of Turin. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet, in 1979, Juventus unflinchingly adopted the black silhouette of a rampant zebra as their emblem, and further back in 1926, the bull and the crown was unabashedly replaced by another zebra with full stripes, for reasons as trivial as their infatuation over a kit which wasn’t theirs in the first place.

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Originally, until 1903, Juventus took to the field in pink shirts with a black tie. It was when the hierarchy realised the logistical error of their choice, i.e. the rapid rate at which the pink pigment faded away, that they asked their player, Englishman John Savage, to call in some favours (since he was English and would obviously have friends who were merchants, because it was the 1900s, remember). Master Savage called home to procure a shipment of black and white Notts County kits at a discount that would better withstand the elements of a cold, rainy night in Napoli.

In fact, if one would peer into past of the Fidanzata d’Italia, the girlfriend of Italy, you will find that their nickname perhaps addressed the capriciousness and inconsistencies in behaviour befitting the stereotype of a young duchess who couldn’t make her mind up. The Italian champions have changed their crest 11 times in total, and have hopscotched through as many “home” stadiums: Parco del Valentino, Parco Cittadella, Piazza d’Armi Stadium, Corso Re Umberto, Corso Sebastopoli Camp, Corso Marsiglia Camp, Stadio Mussolini, Stadio delle Alpi, Renzo Barbera, Dino Manuzzi, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, until finally settling down at the ultra-modern Juventus stadium in 2011.

Even their motto, borrowed from Paolo di Tarso, a theologian who was obviously not from Turin, parps of irony. It goes: “Non coronabitur nisi qui legitimecertaverit”, meaning, “He does not receive the crown, he who does not play by the rules”. Juventus were the prime antagonists in Calciopoli, the biggest match-fixing scandal to ever hit football, sentenced to relegation and poetically stripped of their 2004-’05 Serie A crown.

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Elements of style

The logo consists of four elements: Escudo (the shield), Barrasnegras y blancas (the black and white stripes), Letra J (the letter J) and the custom-made type font which read “JUVENTUS”.

The design made by Milan-based company Interbrand has taken stylistic cues from the work of Nike Graphic Identity Group, an arm of the multinational performance wear behemoth that focuses entirely on design and type fonts. While this design may look ultra-modern and far-removed from the identity of Juventus, fans would be interested to know that back in 1941, the team wore a kit bearing only the letter “J” in place of its crest. So, historically, it is not as irreverent as it is being made out to be, but more a case of needs must.

Arsenal has proved to be the perfect case study in the expedient need for evolution of the football logo and the (literal) trials and tribulations the club has to go through in order to safeguard its rights and merchandise.

In a landmark court ruling that set the precedent for world football, the London-based club won a long legal battle vs Matthew Reed, a street vendor who peddled “unofficial” club merchandise. “Mr Reed appeared to accept that the requirements of infringement were satisfied save in one respect. It was argued on his behalf that the complained use must involve use of the offending sign as a trade mark. Mr Reed argued that he was not using the words and devices as trade marks at all on his merchandise,” read one report.

This forced Arsenal’s hand into devising a simpler, trademark-able design in 2002. Their prior applications for copyright were rejected due to their many (eight) adaptations in the past and the numerous untraceable elements it incorporated. The mouth of the cannon was flipped to the east, the twinkly embellishments on the shield were replaced with a solid shade of red, the green-yellow detailing and the ribbon that carried the motto was scrapped in favour of what you see today. At the time, the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association cried bloody murder.

A swig of Americano

Juventus’ radical style may break new frontiers in football, but it alludes to an already well-established one in American sporting tradition. One of American sport’s oldest logos, the classic “H” encapsulated by the “C” of the Montreal Canadiens, one of the National Hockey League’s “original six”, came to be in 1917. In the National Football League, Dallas Cowboys have their solitary blue star, while Oregon Ducks sport a green “O” on their helmets. The most recognisable sporting brand in the world, New York Yankees, has an “N” embossed over the “Y”.

Simplicity is evidently a formula that works for the Americans when it comes to universal recognition and appeal. Logistically speaking, it not only cuts cost not having to sew needless details in your baseball call, or your club crest, but also the time taken to produce one piece of merchandise. Even if it is half-a-second quicker, it factors in on the running costs of a factory in Thailand, China or elsewhere.

The USA is home to some of the most outrageously tacky logos in the world too. Toronto Raptors used to have a raptor dribbling a basketball. Boston Celtics has a winking Leprechaun, while Notre Dame, an American football team, has its more temperamental cousin – a leprechaun with its dukes up, poised for a proper Irish fisticuff. But saying that symptomatic ridiculousness has been kept at bay by the great divide of the Atlantic would not be true.

SexyPöxyt (translates to SexyPants) from Finland has a club badge that shows a 32-paneled football sporting a pair of pantaloons. In what appears to be an artistic representation of the distant, friendlier cousin of the Whomping Willow kicking a football, it is unclear whether the founding fathers of SC Faetano, San Marino were druids. The crest of Kugsak-45 from the fishing town of Qasigiannguit, playing in the Coca-Cola GM division, depicts two grown fishermen fighting over a sea lion who, naturally, is not quite thrilled.

Ultimately, it is absurd and insular to expect teams to uphold provincial identity in this financial climate of rampant globalisation, and these were examples of some of the sporting institutions who have changed, or are in on the irony.

Coming of the Superbrand

World-renowned mixologist, Tommaso Cecca, slid drinks across the snazzy bar counter to the who’s who of Italy, while he entertained the rest of the crowd with his flair bartending bottle tricks, that would put Tom Cruise’s jugglery in 1988 blockbuster Cocktail to shame. The man who stood behind the DJ decks was multiple Oscar-winning composer, Giorgio Moroder, credited with the invention of electronic music – which is music in its most commercial form, forever altering the landscape of the industry. He is someone Juventus will hope to emulate.

“We’ve got to become more mainstream, more pop,” admitted president Agnelli, in a shareholders’ meeting back in November. Agnelli, drawing upon his experience from a five-year stint in marketing and development for Ferrari Idea, has been under no illusion of their limitations. “In football, there is a gradual polarisation underway on the old continent,” he confessed.“There are eight clubs who make more than €400m a year. We make between €300m and €400m as do Liverpool. Four clubs turn over between €200m and €300m and 10 clubs between €150m and €200m. We are in no-man’s land. Half in the last carriage of first class. Half in the first carriage of second class. The risk is to stay trapped in the middle.” This re-branding was a conscious effort to upgrade Juventus back to business class.

“China and the US are two new strategic markets. We have new targets that are not your classic football fan: millennials, women and kids. We have to ask ourselves what is the little girl in Shanghai and the millennial in Mexico City thinking?” he added. With premier football brands struggling to consolidate themselves in North America, and with the sleeping giant in Chinese football being stirred awake, poised to gobble up existing markets with its big money moves, Agnelli’s foresight will place Juventus at the forefront of exploration in divergent marketing strategies in wider vistas.

Necklaces, purses, wrist watches, journals, perfumes, champagnes, rings, sunglasses, wine glasses, slippers, ties, handbags, tote bags, earrings – all custom-made - have the new Juventus “J” logo embossed, and were all duly propped up in display cases or wall installations showcasing the variety and reproducibility the new package-friendly template offers, with their five-point font type scheme (light, regular, bold, in-line, stretch). Contours and edges of each of those items were accentuated by the use of strategic lighting, and the clever use of contrasting backgrounds – Juventus’ much-publicised logo launch in Turin took on the appearance of a high-brow art gallery exhibition. Pictures from the event were taken by the best in the product photography business, and distributed to all the media companies and influencers that matter most. The transformation of the football crest to a premium lifestyle brand logo was complete.

The fans of other clubs who are offended on behalf of the Italian champions, would be advised to dismount their high-horse, or whichever, archaic, heraldic beast or bird they rode in on, and take a long, hard at their antiquated emblems – they could be cordoned off and away to their respective club museums at any moment now.

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Srijandeep Das is the chief editor of Football Paradise, which has been bestowed the prestigious Judges’ Choice Award at the International Football Blogging Awards 2016, at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium. He tweets @srijandeep)