Juventus were not ready to win the Champions League until Cristiano Ronaldo arrived.
That’s the view of club legend Giorgio Chiellini, who says he never initially believed Ronaldo would sign for the Italian giants when he was first linked with a move in the summer.
Since the Portugal captain arrived from Real Madrid in July, he has scored 14 goals in 19 Serie A appearances and turned Juventus into serious European contenders.
Here, 34-year-old Chiellini talks to BBC Sport about “the personality of Cristiano”, Juve’s chances in Europe this season and the Italy defender’s own glittering career.
Champions League hopes
Juventus have won the Champions League on two occasions and appeared in two of the past four finals, in 2015 and 2017, losing both – with Ronaldo scoring twice in the latter as Real thumped Juve 4-1.
But Chiellini, who played in both, thinks Ronaldo’s arrival means that only now can they win it for the first time since 1996.
“Cristiano scored many, many, many times against us and he broke my dreams many times – in Cardiff, in Madrid, in Turin,” said the defender.
“Before, the Champions League was a dream. Now it is a target because Cristiano is the best player in the world and we need him to make the last step.
“It’s the personality of Cristiano. He has fantastic skills in the field but out of the field, his attitude – how he works, how he prepares for the match, how he lives every day of his life – can help us. The team has changed.”
Juventus will face Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League in February and March, with the La Liga side themselves having lost in two recent finals.
Chiellini says that, despite a first half of the season in which his side have gone nine points clear of Napoli in Serie A, everything will be decided in the final portion of the campaign.
“We started in the first three months nearly in perfection but we know the most important period is from spring,” he said.
“I think that we are one of the four or five teams who are favourites – Barcelona, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich. But also PSG and Atletico can reach the victory and we are so far away from the key matches still.”
Even at the age of 34, Chiellini says he is still learning from Ronaldo, who is one year his junior.
“I was curious to see some particular attitude far from the field,” he said.
“His work in the gym, and his concentration, is something I try to take. He’s helped me because I would like every day to improve myself.”
But the Juve captain admits that even at Italy’s most successful club, where big name arrivals are a regular occurrence, Ronaldo’s signing was unexpected.
“I didn’t believe it at the beginning. But after some days of rumours I talked with [Juventus president] Andrea [Agnelli] and I was surprised. I think that for many fans and also the players it was not so normal.”
Away from football, Ronaldo’s season has been overshadowed by a rape allegation made against him by an American woman, Katherine Mayorga, which he has vehemently denied.
But Chiellini says the allegations haven’t affected the players’ opinion of the Portuguese forward.
“Surely not. We never talk about it in our dressing room and Cristiano has been very able to think about only football,” he said.
I’m not scared – I’m ready for a new era
The nearing end of his playing career is no concern for a man who has been planning his retirement for years.
“I don’t know how long I will play,” said Chiellini, who has worn the famous black and white of Juventus more than 370 times.
“I live day by day and I think only about the next match. I’m very happy, I enjoy to train and play in this team and I’m proud of our team. At this age, we can’t think too far ahead.
“But I’ve prepared for the end of my career.”
Chiellini has two degrees. For the most recent one, a Masters in Business Administration, his dissertation was on ‘The Business Model of Juventus Football Club in an International Context’.
“I would like to do something for Juventus – not as coach but as a manager,” he said.
“I will have to study new things and I will start a new life, but I’m not scared, really. I will be ready for a new era.”
As well as his future, football is also vying for Chiellini’s attention along with his three-year-old daughter, Nina.
“Everything’s changed. Everything. She is my life. She is the most important thing in my life,” he said.
“I do my work 100% but when I return home and she comes to me running, for me everyday is something special. Everything that’s happened away from my house, it doesn’t matter.
“I think that family is really the most important thing and the feeling, the emotion – what I feel at home – it’s more than for anything else.”
Chiellini is in the 16th season of his professional career. In that time he’s lifted the trophy every time as Juventus have won seven successive titles, four of them as part of a double, and been capped 100 times by Italy.
But which strikers have been his toughest opponents?
“I would say [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic. He’s a fantastic player who in Italy has made a difference. He’s very physical and uses it to dominate the match,” he said.
“Now, also [Inter Milan’s] Mauro Icardi. Icardi works in the box. He doesn’t like so much to play out of the box but in the box he’s a killer.
“But I try not to let the striker score his favourite goal. This is my work and surely I have some skills.
“I’m not fast like [Juve defender] Douglas Costa but I’m stronger and I can use the head and move one second before to not risk a situation.”
But, he says, he’ll take risks if he has to and usually, they pay off.
“I did two or three amazing saving tackles against Monaco in 2015, Tottenham in 2017 and another one with Italy against Albania this season when I risked so much to [nearly] make an own goal,” he said.
“But I was able to take the ball and launch it out of our goal. It was a very difficult tackle and something I’m proud of.”