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Monday August 17 2020
Conte chasing Cup shadow

Antonio Conte has traditionally struggled in Cup competitions, so Richard Hall hopes he can break that taboo with Inter in the Europa League.

‘La maledizone della Coppa Italia’ the curse of the Coppa Italia, that is what Gazzetta called it at least. This was the tag line attributed to Antonio Conte when he was bringing consecutive titles to Juventus. It stayed with him, he could not win the Coppa, failed in Europe and eventually, as the story goes, he was replaced with Massimiliano Allegri partly because of this. Mud sticks and despite an FA Cup win in 2017-18 with Chelsea, he continues to be criticised as a man who struggles with the ‘cup format’ competition. Now, as Inter are on the brink of the Europa League Final, he can potentially rid himself of this unwarranted title forever.

Serie A coach of the year three times running, Gazzetta coach of the year, Premier League Manager of the season, LMA manager of the season, the list goes on and on. Conte has won three league titles with Juventus (back to back), he has won the Premier League and albeit at a push, he has won three Cup competitions: one FA Cup and two Italian Supercups. Despite this, he will be to many the man who cannot win in Europe. Think about that tag, how many coaches are revered and have not won a European trophy? Arsene Wenger or what about Massimiliano Allegri? So why does Conte get smeared with this repeatedly?

Conte seems to have this weight on his back, more to the Coppa Italia than his European prowess it seems. It is a ‘hashtag’ that has morphed.  The first time it came to the Italian media’s attention was in 2012. Juventus reached the Coppa Italia final and faced Napoli, they were expected to win, but lost 2-0 to a Partenopei side who were clearly more motivated. That was excusable and ‘The Old Lady’ had just won Serie A and perhaps, had slipped off the pace. Let us not forget, this modern Bianconeri side was created here. It was not always win at all costs.

That season then was excusable for most, they had won the league, it was a big deal back then, nobody would have imagined no one else would win it again for a decade. The next season Conte wanted to do it again and create a legacy of Turin-based dominance. He set out not just to beat his points tally, but to smash Inter’s record of 97 points set in 2006-07. To do this, he prioritised the league and in the semi-finals, he rested players such as Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, the Roman side won 3-2 on aggregate and Juventus went out.

The obsession with continued league domination was realised in his third and final season with the Bianconeri. He managed to finish with 102 points, a monumental effort which told the whole of Italy that Juventus are not just back, they are here to stay. That season they faced Roma in the quarters of the Coppa. Conte rested most of the first XI, despite being on a 13-game winning streak. They duly lost, the cup competition had been sacrificed again.

This on its own may have been okay if Juventus had been successful in Europe. Defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica certainly remain in the mind and it seemed as though, to many, Conte was one-dimensional. Look at how Allegri is viewed in comparison, he focused on the Coppa also and tactically, admittedly, he was more flexible, but he also did not manage to win in Europe.

Success in England finally came and for Conte himself, (even if the Italian media do not follow this line) he has vindicated himself from the Cup curse. The energetic workaholic is now with Inter and they face a tough task against Shakhtar Donetsk in the semi-finals of the Europa League. If they can make it past the Ukrainians, they will face a Sevilla side who have just beaten Manchester United and have a recent record in the competition to suggest they may be favourites. Inter also have a tradition on what was the old UEFA Cup and to win this competition would be very special for the club. If Conte can navigate his team past tonight’s opponents, he could start a legacy at Inter, just as he did at Juventus.

It is certainly true that the one game knock-out format seems to suit Conte’s way of playing. The aggressive approach means he can give a ‘shock and awe’ game plan rather than a two-legged tactical chess match. To win the Europa League would not only put Inter back on the map, but it would fire a shot across Juve’s bow for next term. More importantly, it would take a yoke off Conte’s back that he has held unjustifiably for too long. As the Italian media said this morning in the papers, this truly is Conte’s night.

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Have your say...
In the 90's alone Juve won 2 UEFA Cups, when the UEFA Cup was strong, reached another final + won a Champions League + 2 Rnuuers' Up medals! They won the World Club Cup, The beat PSG 9-1 in the Super Cup! They pretty much won everything! I'm not a Juve fan, I'm just pointing out, all Serie A clubs have struggled in Europe this past decade but things are on the up + starting to change. Even getting to a Europa League final is an achievement. Well done Inter!
on the 18th August, 2020 at 2:54pm
Well done Inter + Antonio Conte. They even got the odd compliment off of BT Sport which is an endangered species! Conte did well for Italy at Euro 2016 in terms of tactics. An International comp! He certainly wasn't 1-D! He's got player selection spot-on at Inter too, picking Lukaku + the rest. He's got them playing well. As for Juve. U could, could say that they havn't dominated in Europe as much as in Italy but this is one of the few clubs that has won every major International trophy!
on the 18th August, 2020 at 2:45pm
It seems that Conte and Inter have answered many questions in their demolition of Shaktar. They were motivated and confident and now will face a tough Sevilla team that also wants the trophy badly. It should be a close contest and a lucky bounce or penatly may make the difference.
Regardless of the outcome Conte has totally changed the mindset of this team and with it Serie A. As Luca pointed out the league will be more competetive, consistent and exciting next season. It will be interesting.
on the 18th August, 2020 at 1:44pm
@The Master - Both Milan clubs have a better record than Juve in this competition (Milan 7 wins, Inter 3, Juve 2). Forget appearances in the final. In fact, Juve have set a European record for losing the most number of finals. Its not something Juve fans should really be boasting about.
on the 18th August, 2020 at 8:51am
@I MISS MARCO BRANCA AT INTER... A typical Jube butt-hurt fan desperately making same repetitive comments over and over again to chill where it really hurts! Regardless what Inter achieve next round, if qualified Italian teams treats Europa League a serious competition, it'll help to gain more experience to compete in higher levels. This experience will be valuable for Inter players, especially those who didn't play in any European competition before. I hope Roma and ACM do the same next season.
on the 18th August, 2020 at 5:35am
@ Vinni M I'm not an Inter fan but I celebrate any Italian teams doing well in Europe and want Inter to win the Europa league. I read your comment just after Inter's game and couldn't help laughing..talk of silencing your critics :)
on the 17th August, 2020 at 10:39pm
Today Conte was out coached against a shakhtar side full of brazilian youngsters. He actually embarrassed Italy by going in the final and having the best defence. He finished with 5 goals up and made history in the number of goals in Inter something is not adding up I thought Conte's a super defensive coach. Sevilla are going to destroy Inter like they did against Man u and embarrass Italy once again. Again what an embarrassment they always slip and I can't wait for them to slip in serie a again
on the 17th August, 2020 at 10:20pm
Conte gets out-coached in Europe, and that won't change this year.....
on the 17th August, 2020 at 6:45pm
Any Trophy that juventus does not play for Inter has a shot at winning ! @ Snek: EL is a second-tier competition, it's a fact....does it bother you ? it should .... 9 years and Inter still can't pass the group stage in CL !!
on the 17th August, 2020 at 6:13pm
The Europa league is not ‘second tier’. It would be a great trophy to win - Spanish and English teams are serial winners in this trophy. The UEFA cup used to be a Serie a fiefdom in the 90s. Let’s get it back!
on the 17th August, 2020 at 5:53pm
@Jay Historically Inter has been Italy's answer in Europe? You know they hadn't won the cup for 45 years right? Or that they hadn't even a reached a final for 38 years? Juventus haven't won for more than 20 years but at least they reached 1 or 2 finals in every decade.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 5:23pm
@Frank Montegan

you can say all you want about Europa League being a second tier European Competition. Fact of the matter is that if Inter lift the trophy this year, funnily enough they will be the first Italian team to lift a European trophy since...??

Juve fans just keep using the excuse that Allegri made and lost 2 finals so did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, no one cares if you finish runners up.

I know if it were me, I'd still rather have won a European title this decade...
on the 17th August, 2020 at 4:31pm
Inter out tonight to Shaktar. Inter only good for one half. I suspect they will lose 3-1.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 4:23pm
Juventus will never be successful in Europe, because they don`t have power and influence over the referees. Conte needs to ensure a better display against the brazilians than against Leverkusen.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 4:07pm
(2/2) As well as winning a major trophy, the Europa league winner not only gets automatic entry in the UCL - which could increase their country's number of entrants to 5 - they are also top seeded and avoid the previous season's UCL and top league winners. It makes commercial and footballing sense in every way for the clubs that enter or are relegated into this competition to take it seriously and target winning it by all means. English and Spanish teams that do this consistently are no fools.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 4:00pm
(1/2) This dismissive attitude of seeing the Europa league as a second tier competition is the reason why Italian clubs have been plummeting down the pecking order in the UEFA coefficients. Because of this, Italian clubs regularly struggle to get past the round of 16 in the UCL because they are either drawn in groups against 2 top clubs or end up playing a top club in the round of 16 due to finishing in 2nd place.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 3:51pm
Historically, Inter and Milan have been Italy's answer in Europe. Juve - for all its domestic dominance - is not that much of a force outside Italy. Going 25 years without UCL win is the proof. Given this, Conte may have a better chance of winning in Europe with Inter than he would have had with Juve. After all, one of the reasons behind his acrimonious departure was the mgmt's reluctance to elevate the team's quality to a 'UCL winning' team - instead of a team content with being just a finalist
on the 17th August, 2020 at 3:46pm
@Frank Montegan ...We inter fans don't care whether the Europa league is second tier football or not.

Winning the Europa league makes this season our best in 11 years and thats what matters most ,we can worry about the big dance and a next season .

Here in Nigeria we say its from a clap of the hands you start a dance ...so let's clap first this season before we can worry about dancing
on the 17th August, 2020 at 1:42pm
Let's hope Conte can lead Inter to European glory and kick start a new successful era for both Inter and Serie A as a whole. Maybe 2020 will be the decade that Serie A finally makes some positive strides. Napoli are looking stronger under Gattuso and have already made some good additions. Wouldn't it be great if Inter won the Europa this season followed by another Italian winner in Napoli next season. It's that kind of consistency Serie A desperately needs
on the 17th August, 2020 at 12:36pm
Some statements in this article are strange: 1) Conte was not replaced by Allegri because of failures in Europe - he spat the dummy and left himself. 2) Whilst Allegri did not win in Europe, his record in reaching 2 UCL finals is much better than Conte's constant failures in the group stages 3) The Europa league is a second tier European competition - regardless of whether Inter win it or not, it just showcases their failure at the big dance of UCL football in the last few years.
on the 17th August, 2020 at 11:38am

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