This is a ‘conscious uncoupling’ – the ludicrous phrase introduced to the zeitgeist by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin when announcing their break-up. Juventus and Antonio Conte are doing everything possible to make this easy on the kids (players) and fans, but it just doesn’t make sense as an entirely relaxed and mutual decision.
This isn’t the kind of move you make on the second day of pre-season training. In fact, it must’ve been made on the first day, because a contract termination isn’t agreed within hours. It had to be at least a process started last night. What on earth happened to cause such a schism?
Conte’s issues with the contract renewal had already been clear over the last few months, but were knocked down the road after that historic third consecutive Scudetto. He had seemed to resolve the problems around their ambitions, what was expected of him and the squad he’d be given to actually achieve those targets.
Seeing Alexis Sanchez go to Arsenal and the on-going saga over Juan Manuel Iturbe must’ve stung Conte’s pride. I get the feeling there was more to it, as Juve might be considering a big sacrifice to fund new moves. There are only two players who fit that bill: Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. Conte expressed irritation when Emanuele Giaccherini was sold to Sunderland, but losing a truly key player when expected to push for Champions League victory would be too much.
Conte will not be the Sir Alex Ferguson of Juventus. By Italian standards, three years is like 25, so perhaps he was their equivalent of Fergie. A Coach does not have a long shelf-life in Italy and people only remember the last result. Just ask Marcello Lippi after his return to the Azzurri bench. Perhaps Conte feared being torn to shreds, the same way Cesare Prandelli was after the World Cup regardless of all previous good work, if he failed to make history yet again.
President Andrea Agnelli’s open letter made me think, too. “Only two months have passed since the last great victory and Juventus must continue their journey. This club is gifted today with a young, ready and cohesive group of directors who over the years have been able to find the ambition and determination to achieve any target.”
Any target. Conte thinks they haven’t the structure to win the Champions League, but Agnelli and his staff do not see it that way. That is the basic problem, it was the issue a few months ago too, so why wait until now?
Juventus deserve credit for keeping this huge story very quiet indeed, as usually rumours emerge days beforehand rather than hours or even minutes in this case. On the surface, the club and Coach treated this ‘conscious uncoupling’ in the least traumatic manner. However, breaking up two days into pre-season training? Announcing it without letting the captain know, as Gigi Buffon was told about it in a Press conference for his other club, Carrarese? That points to rushing this news out before it could leak, like a controlled explosion – controlled only in appearance.
It’s going to be earth-shaking for the Juve squad. It’s July 15 and they have no Coach, despite already starting pre-season and with several transfers hanging in the balance. Will Alvaro Morata and Iturbe still want to come without knowing who is in charge?
Can any of the available tacticians out there be remotely suitable? Roberto Mancini, Massimiliano Allegri – don’t tell Andrea Pirlo! – and Luciano Spalletti are the only genuine candidates right now. Hardly a prestigious bunch. Maybe Juve will follow Roma’s path and look abroad for their Coach, finding someone who is separate from the endless controversy that inevitably follows the Old Lady around. Either way, they’ve got to do it quickly or start this season in utter chaos.
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