It could just have been coincidence, but when the cameras zoomed in on Antonio Conte during the recent Europa League final, held at the Juventus Stadium, and saw him chatting away to Sir Alex Ferguson, the rumour mill began to turn.
The following day's papers (all of which can be seen here in English, via football-italia.net) were awash with speculation on the Juve boss' future. "Bench Revolution," declared the Gazzetta dello Sport, before speculating on the future of not just the Bianconeri position, but also the coaches at Milan, Fiorentina and Parma.
The Corriere dello Sport stuck to the theme: "Juve, ultimatum to Conte—the club wants a response within the next few days," as did Italy's third sport daily, Tuttosport, which cheekily proclaimed: "Juve, what a crush on Montella!" hinting that the powers that be in Turin fancy a move for Fiorentina's much-admired young manager. Tuttosport went on to say, however, that Conte remains the preferred option.
It's now up to the club to convince Conte that his future is still with Juve. It's believed that the former midfielder would like to begin a new project at the club, more focused on success in Europe. That would probably involve a change in formation—and the purchase of several new players.
It might also provide exactly the kind of motivation that his players need after three league titles in a row. Andrea Pirlo spoke in no uncertain terms about how much he wants Conte to stay in an interview with the GdS recently (in Italian), but the board are obviously reflecting on more than popularity; it remains to be seen if they want to invest more money, or give the kind of long-term power to Conte that he will want.
"Serie A begins the waltz of the benches," was how the Gazzetta dello Sport put it (here in Italian). They speculate that just seven clubs in the league have managers who are certain to start the next campaign, and the rest are all uncertain.
Conte, it's believed, is central to that merry-go-round. If he leaves, Fiorentina's Vincenzo Montella is among the favourites to replace him, along with the ex-Roma boss Luciano Spalletti. Both of them are also candidates for the Milan job, along with Pippo Inzaghi, as it's doubtful that the Rossoneri will continue with Clarence Seedorf.
The relationship between the bench and the board in Turin remains perilously close to the end—but neither side will want to push. Conte's a club legend as a player and a manager, and he now ranks as among the most successful employees they've ever had. He's young and talented, and no organisation wants to rush someone with those credentials out the door.
From Conte's perspective, there's clearly an affection for the club with which he won the Champions League in 1996—but not just because of nostalgia from his playing days. He's regarded as one of Europe's best coaches now, but it shouldn't be forgotten that when he was entrusted with the Juve bench, his CV included a title and a second place in Serie B, and a disastrous few months with Atalanta. The club put faith in him then, so he'll be reluctant to walk away too quickly from them now.