Antonio Conte spoke blandly of revenue streams and the economics of Champions League progress and of the need for his team still to "mature" but, when he considered the occasion ahead, the Italian simply could not disguise a sense of thrill. "This is a dream for us, to be in the knockout stages," said the Juventus manager. "Like Celtic we're back in this competition for the first time in a while so, in some respects, we are both outsiders here."
That may have been diplomatic but, back in Turin, the Bianconeri are starting to believe they belong. Juve, twice winners and seven-time finalists in Europe's elite club competition, feel like contenders again after the traumas endured in the wake of Calciopoli and the spluttered attempts since to regain lost status. They will emerge into the din at Parkhead on Tuesday a side wary that an awkward evening awaits, but a club that is joyfully bursting back to prominence. The Old Lady of Italian football is revived.
It has been a laborious route back. The match-fixing scandal had disgraced the club, condemning them to Serie B back in 2006, wrecking their reputation and gutting what had been an imposing team. Even if life in the second tier was limited to a solitary promotion-winning season, there was a dissatisfaction attached to subsequent campaigns, even those which flirted with the Champions League once more. It said much that Gianluigi Buffon, the only remaining member of the pre-scandal playing staff, recognised this season's European campaign as a return "through the front door". This time round they are league champions, Italy's flag-bearers proper and essentially the team who eliminated the holders, Chelsea, in the group stages.
Off the pitch the sparkling new 41,000-seat Juventus stadium, scene of Roberto Di Matteo's last stand at Chelsea back in November, has offered an opportunity for a fresh start, complete with facilities like those taken for granted in the Premier League if considered eye-catching in Italy. From executive boxes to swish restaurants the corporate experience represents progress in a ground that belongs to the club as opposed to the dilapidated state-owned homes of most of Juve's rivals. They are generating income off the pitch which can fuel ambitions on it. January may have been relatively quiet but Nicolas Anelka has arrived on loan from Shanghai Shenhua, a decade after he almost signed for the club, and Spain's Fernando Llorente will join under the Bosman ruling in the summer.
Juve retain the pull of old and over the last 19 months have swept all before them. Managers had come and gone in the period since the darkest days, from Claudio Ranieri to Ciro Ferrara, Alberto Zaccheroni to Gigi Del Neri, though it was only when Conte returned in May 2011 to the club where he won a European Cup in 1996 that the team was heaved on to another level. The achievements of a man whose top-flight experience had previously amounted to a fraught three-month tenure at Atalanta have been remarkable. Last season's Scudetto, technically Juve's first in nine years, was claimed without a game lost. Saturday's victory over Fiorentina means they are five points clear again this term.
Conte has endured his own traumas, not least the four-month touchline ban for his alleged part in the match-fixing scandal and which left him on the outside looking in as his side gathered momentum in their Champions League qualifying group. Yet even then the 43-year-old's impact remained clear. "Conte has brought back the 'Juventus style', something which is not really understood outside Juve," said Marcello Lippi, who had claimed this competition with Conte in his midfield against Ajax in Rome 17 years ago. "His team have speed, style and determination and are well organised. They work hard for each other, all aspects of the Juve DNA but which had been lost."
There is class to go with the tenacity. Tactically Conte is cute and, perhaps critically, more adaptable than some. When he returned to the club in the summer of 2011 he had been intent on employing a 4-2-4 reliant on feverish pressing and energy, only for Andrea Pirlo's arrival from Milan to force a rethink. The integration of the veteran alongside Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal in a three-man midfield has been key to the team's smooth progress since, the manager having recognised that area as his side's forte with the trio a blur of slick interchanges, a unit that functions sweetly. The 4-3-3 has become 3-5-2 and even 3-3-4, constantly morphing. Chelsea never truly came to terms with that flexibility in either tie. In Turin they were pulled out of defensive shape and, eventually, ripped to shreds.
There has been shrewd investment, not least across the back line and Kwadwo Asamoah has already proved in this competition that a player once considered a midfield playmaker can flourish as a left wing-back. The hope is that Anelka this term, and Llorente next, add a menacing presence to a front-line heavily reliant upon Mirko Vucinic being in the mood. "We are building something very good here," said Conte. "It is only a matter of time before we really challenge [for a European Cup] and I just ask our fans to be a bit patient."
Dousing the expectation may be wishful thinking with the momentum that has been built up. Celtic have beaten Barcelona this season but, potentially, they will face a more trying evening against a team who are patient out of possession but eager to spring on the counter. "They have an extremely compact collective and it actually helps that they lack a 'star' player," said Jose Mourinho recently of the Italians. "They remind me of my Porto side in 2004." That team claimed this trophy. Conte and Juve can dare to dream indeed.