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Monday May 7 2012
Conte-gratulations Juventus

Juventus’ last title pre-Calciopoli was in 2003 when Antonio Conte, Gigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero lifted Lo Scudetto. Giancarlo Rinaldi writes.

For some sides it would seem like an instant, but for followers of Juventus it felt like a lifetime. After nearly a decade of abstinence, they have a Scudetto which will remain in the record books. Normal service has been resumed.

Back in 2003, of course, it was just the continuation of a period of prolonged success. The Bianconeri were a domestic and European powerhouse with a global reputation. Their latest triumph under Antonio Conte feels more like an old prize-fighter reclaiming his title after some bruising defeats.

The side of nine years ago was a very different one from the one which has brought the League title back to Turin. Back then, a draw with Perugia was enough to see off the challenge of a Bobo Vieri-inspired Inter. In truth, Marcello Lippi’s side had looked like champions in waiting for a few weeks before that.

Their success came sandwiched between two legs of a Champions League semi-final which few Juventini will ever forget. Defeated 2-1 at the Bernabeu, the Bianconeri would storm past Real Madrid to book a place in the Final courtesy of an imperious display by Pavel Nedved. They would, of course, lose that ultimate appointment on penalties to Milan with their talismanic Czech suspended – Chelsea and Bayern Munich take note.

That was an indication of the strength of that side, able to fight convincingly on both the home and European front. This season La Vecchia Signora has undoubtedly benefited from having her main focus on one target. But, knowing the old dear well, that will not keep her satisfied for long.

The ‘golden thread’ between the last Scudetto and this is represented by Gianluigi Buffon and Alex Del Piero who were both key parts of that side. But also, and he would never let us forget it, by their Coach Conte, who was just as much of a driving force as a player as he has been on the bench. He, more than most, knows what it means to be a winner.

Back in 2003, the title victory was dedicated to Gianni Agnelli, the head of the Juve empire who had died earlier that year. But it was also a coronation of the glorious return of Lippi. His fifth league title with the club over two spells was an achievement the self-confessed ‘ball-buster’ was ready to savour.

“In life, it is not easy to win things,” he said. “You can do it by coincidence, you can do it by luck. But when you win for three, four or even five times you need outstanding technique, character and psychological strength. And that is what is amazing about this fifth Scudetto. In the willingness to give everything to get more and more competitive. So, every time you win, it gets even more satisfying.

“We’ve got players here who, for nine years, have shown the same grit and determination,” he added. “In fact, I would say even more so, because our opponents have got stronger.”

That side could count on the goal threat of David Trezeguet and Marco Di Vaio as well as Del Piero. While the midfield, along with the industrious and inventive Nedved, boasted the likes of Mauro Camoranesi, Alessio Tacchinardi and Edgar Davids. In defence, Ciro Ferrara, Mark Iuliano, Paolo Montero and Gianluca Zambrotta were among those who helped to shield Buffon. A look at those names gives you a hint at the battle-hardened spirit that was the lifeblood of that side.

Antonio Conte and his new generation will have their work cut out to emulate their predecessors but the early indications are good. To go a season undefeated speaks volumes about their character. There were times when their record looked likely to fall, most notably in Naples, but they held it intact with a ferocious pride.

The title celebrations, understandably, had a feeling of liberation and vindication after the punishments handed out for the Calciopoli scandal. But, knowing the Bianconeri, once that pleasure has subsided, there will be a hunger and desire to build on this victory to secure more silverware both at home and in Europe. The history of the club dictates that winning a single Scudetto is never enough. 

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