Juventus players and staff filed into Vinovo on Monday ready to commence pre-season training, Antonio Conte amongst them. All appeared well. The Italian champions were to begin preparations for a season in which they hope to continue their domestic supremacy and enjoy a better showing on the continent. The Coach got to work on the field. Fernando Llorente fronted the Press and stated Conte’s expiring contract – June 2015 – would have no bearing.
He didn’t even last that long.
“I need to announce the consensual decision to terminate the contract with Juventus, which tied us together for this season,” Conte said yesterday, in a video posted by the club. “There was a journey towards this decision.”
That journey can be traced back to May. In the immediate aftermath of Juve’s title success were suspicions the Lecce native would call it quits. Then a tweet: “Season 2014/15: Coach Antonio Conte”. The one-year committal was seen as a stop-gap before further negotiations on an extended deal. Yet on the second day of pre-season training the marriage came to a – seemingly – abrupt end.
Conte was hired in 2011 to get Juventus out of its post-Calciopoli slump. He did just that, playing a huge role in the Bianconeri returning to the top of the Italian game. Juve ended his first season undefeated. They broke the Serie A points record in his third. The Juventus machine was again rolling.
So what pushed Conte over the edge? There didn’t seem to be any indication of an issue surrounding his extension since the May discussions. Could the transfer market have played a role? The timing would help that theory.
There appear two schools of thought on that matter. One is the club failed to land targets he desired, such as Alexis Sanchez. To make a splash in Europe, Conte recognised the need for continual enhancement. Compounding the situation yesterday was the Juan Iturbe talks breaking down. The other has Conte unhappy with the club willing to sell either Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba, yet indications are neither was for sale.
The word emanating from the Conte camp state the reason is not to do with the above, but a lack of drive and energy to continue. Whatever the motive, it’s a shock to the system.
Captain Gianluigi Buffon says he was unaware: “It was an unexpected decision, a bolt from the blue. Seeing the words used and the tone of the messages, we can see both the Coach and club reached this decision by mutual consent without any type of anger. Probably it is something that matured over time and had been brewing for a while until it reached its epilogue today.”
President Andrea Agnelli stated Juventus: “must continue their journey.” But it leaves them in a tight spot.
The new season starts in 46 days and the Bianconeri are without a Coach. Reports indicate Massimiliano Allegri is the frontrunner, with a two-year deal having been reached. Such a move would change the make-up of the team, at the very least diverging from the three-man defence. Juve’s aggressive and pro-active football under Conte also differs from Allegri’s style. Then there’s the Andrea Pirlo factor – would Allegri give Pirlo the integral role he did not at Milan?
Other candidates include Roberto Mancini – what of Carlos Tevez? – Zinedine Zidane, Luciano Spalletti and Sinisa Mihajlovic. Whoever is chosen, Juve must act fast. The resignation has already taken its effect on transfers in the works, such as Patrice Evra’s proposed move.
As for Conte’s future, the Italy bench is the most high-profile position available. The Azzurri are in need of a tactician, but nothing will be decided until after the August 11 Presidential election. Not that Conte would be drawn in to the speculation: “At this moment I am thinking about the present and the decision I just made.”
And Juventus fans will be thinking about it for some time. Conte returned to the Old Lady at a low point and dragged her from mediocrity to become one of Juve’s most successful Coaches. Now they must move forward as smoothly as possible to continue down the winning path Conte laid out.