Conte conquers again but can Juventus give him the financial backing he craves?
There can surely be few people surprised that Antonio Conte has made a success of his managerial career. Capped 20 times by Italy, the former Juventus midfielder enjoyed a Serie A career that lasted almost two decades and brought with it five league titles, a Champions League triumph and Uefa Cup glory among other trophies.
On Sunday afternoon in Turin, Conte also secured a second successive scudetto as Juventus coach when an Arturo Vidal’s penalty mid-way through the second half gave his team a 1-0 victory over Palermo. The Bianconeri needed just one point to see them safely over the line but, as has been the case since Conte took over the helm from Luigi Delneri almost two years ago, the home side recorded yet another league victory – their 26 of the season.
The only surprising aspect of Conte’s success at Juventus is that it has come almost instantaneous. Unveiled as coach in May 2011, the club stressed patience and talked of a five-year plan – after all Juve were still a team coming to terms with their demotion to Serie B after the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Despite the fact that they had bounced straight back up again after finishing third in 2008, Juventus had not had any real success since their league triumphs of 2005 and 2006 – titles which were subsequently stripped from the club after their enforced relegation.
Their return to Serie A promised big things as Claudio Ranieri guided them to third spot and a subsequent foray into the Uefa Champions League, however, this early promise soon waned and Juve slipped down the table to record two disappointing seventh place finishes. They then sacked Ranieri and saw first Ciro Ferrara, then Alberto Zaccheroni and finally Delneri come and soon go.
Things changed in May 2011 however, as Conte was brought back to his former club after an impressive promotion season with Tuscan outfit Siena. Interestingly, Conte had been linked with the Juve job in 2009 when coach at Bari, however, Juventus plumped for Ciro Ferrara and Conte stayed in Southern Italy.
Juve were not to make the same mistake twice however, and neither party have looked back since. Conte’s first season in the hot seat saw him guide the Bianconeri to what the club and its fans still see as their 31st title – refusing to acknowledge their 2005 and 2006 titles have been stripped from them. Furthermore, they managed to complete the league campaign undefeated – the first side since Milan in 1992 to do so and the only time since Serie A was enlarged to 20 teams in 2004.
That amazing 49 match unbeaten run eventually came to an end against Inter in November, however, Juventus have dominated the league yet again and are just one point away from equalling last year’s total, with three games still to play. This dominance is all the more remarkable when one takes into account that Conte served a four month suspension between the months of August and December for his failure to report an attempted match fixing while at Siena.
The arrival of Conte in 2011 has also had an impact on a number of players in the squad, not least goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who recently claimed Conte was the best coach he has ever worked under – no small praise as the 40-year-old has worked under some of the best tacticians in the game.
Buffon is part of a defensive backline that has shown supreme defensive discipline under Conte – conceding just 21 goals this season and 20 last term – and has enjoyed one of the best seasons in his long career. To highlight this defensive dominance, only two teams (Milan and Napoli) this term have shipped in less goals then Juventus have in in the past two seasons combined.
It is not just this defensive stoicism that has fired Juventus to the titles either, their attack has also been formidable. Only Roma, with 69, have scored more goals than Conte’s side this season while only Milan’s 74 outscored them last term. A look at the statistics also reveals another impressive facet of Juve’s game – just one player, Vidal, has hit double figures for goals scored this season. Their attacking prowess has been very much a team affair with eight players having scored five league goals or more.
These impressive statistics, and the dominance Juventus has exerted over their rivals during the past two seasons have, in large part, been down to Conte himself – now considered one of the best young managers in the game. This has not gone unnoticed either. As Juventus fans and players alike celebrated the team’s triumph on Sunday afternoon, there was sure to have been some trepidation over the future of their now in-demand coach.
A number of big name clubs have been linked with a move for the 43-year-old, not least Spanish giants Real Madrid, big-spenders Paris St Germain and recently deposed English champions, Manchester City. However, it comes as no surprise to find that Conte himself wants to stay at Juventus for the foreseeable future – if the side receive the financial investment he believes it needs to challenge at the very top.
Speaking in the post-match press conference on Sunday, Conte said: “My objective is to now go as high as possible, and success in the Champions League is the highest possible place to go – I would like to do that with Juventus.”
This lands the ball very firmly in the court of Juventus. Conte may commit to another season in Turin but he needs the financial backing to compete at the highest level of the European game. Failure to strengthen the side and it is unlikely the coach will stay more than another season or two.
For now however, Juventus fans can celebrate domestic dominance and their 31st Serie A triumph. Or is that 29?