Since his appointment as manager, Antonio Conte’s Juventus have become the finest team in Italy this century. Truly imperious, they have continued to improve and are poised this season to win their third consecutive Serie A championship while on target to shatter Inter’s points record from 2007. Despite their domestic hegemony, Conte should not have his contract extended.
The vacuum of genuine challengers has enabled Juventus to achieve a record which is not the result of their manager’s brilliance. Rather, it simply underscores lack of quality in Italy and reflects the good work of their general manager and sporting director.
Despite the fact that the unravelling of AC Milan and Inter makes Juventus’ success something of a mirage, there has been a genuine improvement. However, much of the credit does not belong to the head coach.
The genesis of this successful period was in 2010 with the tripartite arrival of Luigi Del Neri as coach, Giuseppe Marotta as general manager and Fabio Paratici as the new sporting director. Del Neri struggled as manager, and his departure opened the door for Conte to join as head coach, but the guidance of Marotta and Paratici has been key.
Their signing of Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in 2010 reinforced the maturing Giorgio Chiellini, and the three have gone on to form a superb defence; the backbone of Conte’s titles. Marotta and Paratici secured the signature of Italy’s finest player, Andrea Pirlo, in 2011 and added another maestro in Arturo Vidal to play alongside him.
In 2013 they added Fernando Llorente; both he and Pirlo joined on free transfers. The bargain acquisition of Carlos Tevez for just £10 million again showed their shrewdness. The acquisition of Paul Pogba, also on a free transfer, has proven a master stroke.
The 2011-12 league campaign was a grand triumph, a cathartic victory five years after the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal and Juve’s expulsion from Serie A. An unbeaten season and a championship showed Conte’s qualities but also demonstrated his critical weaknesses. His cautious defensive approach nearly cost Juventus the title. Despite Milan losing six times, Juve only clinched the title on the penultimate day. From February to March, Juve drew six of their seven matches.
Conte’s consecutive, and worsening, failures in Europe must be weighed most heavily. They demonstrate that he is incapable of taking a vastly talented group to the next level. It may be harsh to describe elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich as failure, yet it is the meek and cautious nature of the 4-0 aggregate defeat that is demonstrative.
The defensive selection in the first leg can, perhaps, be excused, but the timidity showed in Turin encapsulates Conte’s flaws. In the group stages, their final points tally of 12 suggests a comfortable progression, but it obscures the fact that Juve began with three consecutive draws and were in significant danger of elimination.
This season’s campaign in Europe was a disaster. Beginning again with two draws, they were beaten in Madrid in their third match. That is no disgrace, but they were left with too much to do to qualify. Defeat in Istanbul secured the booby prize of Europa League participation.
Conte has not been a failure as manager. His appointment was a vital part of Juve’s leap from consecutive seventh-place finishes to back-to-back league championships. He has been a big part of Juve’s return to Europe and Italy’s elite. During his playing career, Conte was part of another dominant Juve team, and he brought that attitude and a relentless enthusiasm to his coaching role. He introduced players from the Primavera squad and helped integrate them with the new signings to create a Scudetto winning side.
Despite all this, he has simply reached his zenith. He cannot take Juventus any further and must be replaced if Juventus are to add to their two European Cups. That must be the goal of a team that is so dominant on the domestic front, and it is not one which Conte is capable of achieving.
With 12 months remaining, Conte's current deal and, given that this is a World Cup year, Juventus are in a perfect position to take advantage of the inevitable coaching churn that follows the tournament. The right manager can combine this talented group of players and excellent executives, and can make Juventus truly great again.
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