What Next for Juventus Coach Antonio Conte?
Antonio Conte has enjoyed a splendid start to his career as Juventus manager.
The 43-year-old has collected back-to-back scudetti and has done so with an original style that has pleased Juventini.
It is fair to say that the Bianconeri have mastered the three centre-back defence best across Europe, and it has been their defensive organisation that has been the bedrock for this side's success.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli collectively have everything required in a defence, and with Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks, there is an argument that Conte has assembled the best defence in European football.
The fact that it is completely Italian has been even more impressive, with plenty more Azzurri internationals throughout the side, ensuring that the club's values are upheld and a desire and commitment is present through the rough and the smooth.
Conte should also be lauded for how he has excellently blended a group of foreign stars into the side, particularly Arturo Vidal, who had never played in Serie A before his move to Juve two years ago.
Kwadwo Asamoah, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mirko Vucinic are the other foreign regulars, but all of these had experience in Italy with previous clubs.
There seems to be a real spirit in the camp, and Conte has bonded this group closely, often devising this with carefully articulated speeches in press conferences to create an "us against them" mentality that Jose Mourinho has been famed for.
Just like Mourinho, Conte has not enjoyed his success without controversies, with the match-fixing scandal of 2012 bringing up his name and accusations of misprision of felony eventually landing him a ban of four months after a successful appeal reduced the initial 10-month punishment.
"Vergogna" (shame) cried Conte in numerous interviews as he felt he was being victimised and made out to be an example by the FIGC, but Conte negotiated his time away from the bench magnificently.
Agnelli on assigning Conte 2 yrs ago "Antonio contacted me through a mutual friend, he completely convinced me of his vision for Juventus."— Tarek Khatib (@ADP1113) May 13, 2013
By identifying assistants Massimo Carrera and Angelo Alessio (who returned from his ban earlier than Conte) to guide the side during matches, Juve were in prime position on Conte's return, and the backroom staff have been lauded as being a vital reason for the immediate success enjoyed in the Conte era.
Whether it has been working with young players such as Paul Pogba or veterans like Andrea Pirlo, Conte has proven that he can get the best out of individuals and even shuffled his tactics in order to do so, as was the case with Pogba.
The tactical diversity displayed by Conte is something that is not stated nearly enough, and this component to his management has ensured that Juve will successfully negotiate the transition from domestic football to the demands of European football in the Champions League, ultimately the burning desire of La Vecchia Signora.
Thus far the project has been sensational, and the only blemish might be the Coppa Italia final defeat in 2012 to Napoli, but that was quickly forgotten due to the significance of the scudetto from the 2011/12 season—according to the club, not the FIGC—being counted as the 30th in their history and warranting a third star above the badge, an honour yet to be achieved by any other Italian club.
While the FIGC still maintain that Juve possess 29 scudetti (due to 2005 and 2006 scudetti being removed in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal), it is only a matter of time before everybody will have to acknowledge that third star.
While plenty of managers have claimed titles at Juventus, Conte's legacy is already secured, in part due to the timing of this current project, being the first titles since being relegated to Serie B.
The ambitions of the club have always spread outside of Italy, and the lure of the Champions League is something that the club are well aware of right now.
So while the domestic success has been enjoyed, Conte's next challenge is clearly to bring a third European Cup back to Turin, and it feels like he has the credentials to do so, having exceeded expectations in his debut season in the competition.
To top a group that possessed Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea was impressive, and the formality of sweeping aside Celtic in the last 16 meant that their defeat to Bayern at the quarter-final stage left the fans merely disappointed, but content with the progress achieved.
There is an equal desire on the manager's part to enjoy more success in Europe, though, and words expressed in the wake of their title success left many a little shocked, but actually somewhat impressed by Conte's immense hunger to build upon the last couple of seasons.
Many have pinpointed Conte's attack as the shortfall against Bayern, where they failed to score a goal over two legs against the German champions, so naturally some of the best forwards in Europe have been linked to the Bianconeri this summer.
Conte decided to heap pressure on the board to deliver more than just forwards if he is to take Juventus to the brink of success in Europe, stating that Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gonzalo Higuain "wouldn't be enough to win the Champions League" (per ESPN FC).
This quote is indicative of Conte the manager, always so precise with his words no matter the situation; whether he is joyous during title celebrations or irate at the sanctions imposed on him after the Calciopoli scandal, there is a deep meaning behind what the man says.
This particular quote was not just aimed at the board to provide him with the appropriate players to take the side to the next level, but also a thinly veiled challenge to the current group not to become satisfied with their domestic success.
The third year of the project will be crucial as to whether this Juventus side can join the elite of the Champions League and sustain that success over a number of years to ensure that the Bianconeri are always in contention to add to their two European Cups.
This summer should tell us considerably more about the approach from both Conte and the club and whether they are prepared to strive for that next level or not, which ultimately provides us with an answer as to whether Conte's ambitions can be satisfied in Turin, or whether a new challenge abroad is where he ultimately fulfils his managerial potential.
To stick or twist, that is the question for the Agnelli family and whether they can deliver what Conte really craves.
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