Juventus have stood by Antonio Conte from day one. Ever since his home was the subject of a dawn raid by police to Thursday’s confirmation that he would be facing a sporting tribunal for allegedly failing to report attempts to fix two games while in charge of Siena.
“I have personally known him for 20 years,” President Andrea Agnelli said at a hastily-arranged Press conference in May. “I am aware of his human qualities and I want to make something very clear before any speculation starts. Antonio Conte is and will be our Coach next season when we return to the Champions League.”
That was certainly the hope, but the reality may be somewhat different – at least for part of the campaign. Juventus insist he is innocent, the tactician is just as adamant, but it would be unprofessional of a club of the Old Lady’s stature to not already be considering what they’d do should the former midfielder be suspended after the August hearings.
Just what kind of ban Conte could get is still a subject of speculation. There is a risk of a six-month stop for such an offence, but also the possibility that figure could be cut to three or four months if he considers a plea bargain. In doing so, he would be admitting to something which he vehemently denies and something that doesn’t seemingly sit within his character.
So what are Juventus’ options should the tactician be forced to sit out a spell on the sidelines? The outfit probably couldn’t turn to assistant boss Angelo Alessio or Christian Stellini, as those two members of Conte’s coaching staff will also have to prove their innocence as part of the same investigation.
The most likely internal option being discussed presently is handing Massimo Carrera the reins. A former defender in Turin, he won the Scudetto with the Old Lady back in 1994-95 alongside Conte. Juventus added him to their technical staff in 2009 and Carrera, who has a Category B licence, has been part of Conte’s team since last summer.
It would be a convenient fit even if there are massive question marks over his in-game reading of matches and his ability to make a difference from the sidelines, especially at the highest level.
The other option is that Juventus appoint a second Coach on an interim basis, but who is available to continue the kind of football that Conte preaches? Especially when you consider that the champions’ transfer strategy this summer seems to have been heavily influenced by the Lecce native.
Now here is where Juventus could get creative, even if the chances of what is about to be proposed is quite possibly the longest of long shots, maybe as implausible as Inter and Fiorentina doing some business with each other on the transfer market. What if La Signora evaluated a bid for Cesare Prandelli? Hold back on the insults – at least for now.
For the sake of argument – and not wanting to pre-judge Conte as guilty – let’s say that the former Bari boss is banned for four months. Would there be any harm in asking the Italian Football Federation, despite past tensions, to loan them Prandelli, for a fee, on a part-time basis?
The former Fiorentina man has already made it clear that he misses the day-to-day management of club football. And is being a national Coach really a full-time job? Between now and January, the Azzurri have four World Cup qualifiers – Bulgaria and Armenia away, Malta and Denmark at home. Obviously he’ll return to the Italy tracksuit in the build up to those encounters, but he could potentially be working with a lot of the same players at club and international level given Juve’s heavy influence within his Giro Azzurro. That would be an advantage for both club and country, one could argue.
Others could just as easily contend that such an appointment would be a conflict of interests, especially those at rival clubs. Anyone else already hearing a President of another side moaning that Prandelli was protecting or resting ‘his’ Juventus players on international duty ahead of a Serie A tie?
Prandelli himself may not fancy the hullabaloo that such an appointment, even on a temporary basis, would bring in terms of media coverage. He was already well and truly stung by the criticism he got for naming his son as part of his staff at Euro 2012. His every move would be placed under the brightest of spotlights, with questions being asked with regard to which side were his top priority.
The former Parma tactician is also unlikely to agree with the idea of basically working as a puppet, being told to follow a certain footballing path that he may not agree with. The Federation could also be unwilling, for understandable reasons, to share the man who is contracted to them given the importance of a World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Prandelli-Italy-Juventus triangle thus remains just fantasy football in a summer crammed with the odd impossible transfer. But at a time when money is tight and quality Coaches are all tied up to other clubs, it may need a touch of invention from Juventus to replace a man who, right now, is seemingly irreplaceable.