Published On: Thu, May 10th, 2012

Juventus Club Focus: A Closer Look At The Fantastic Antonio Conte

After years of turmoil and struggle, Juventus have returned to their rightful place atop Serie A. Their phenomenal defense (statistically speaking, Juventus have the best defense in Europe), and powerful midfield led the way, but there’s more to this story than just a talented team.

Indeed, perhaps the main arc of this story relates to the manager, Antonio Conte, and how he has rebuilt this Juventus side in his image. Conte, who captained Juventus during the ’90s when they ran dominant over Italy and Europe (winning three Scudetti and the 95/96 Champions League in addition to several other competitions), was never the most skilled or aesthetically pleasing player. Rather, Conte made his name by working as hard as he can, personifying the grinta of Juventus, and never giving up.

All of those qualities have been seen in Conte’s managerial career, whether it be this year with Juve or in his past tenures at clubs. The man even refused to give in to male pattern baldness, instead receiving a “hair transplant” (a la Wayne Rooney) to keep his head sheathed.

He broke in to the managerial game with Arezzo in Serie B, although the team struggled and he was sacked before being brought back later in the season. Arezzo would be relegated at the end of the season, but Conte did not give up.

In December of 2007 he moved on to A.S. Bari, who were fighting a relegation battle in Serie B. Conte led the side from the basement of Serie B to a modest, but respectable, 11th place finish. The next season, his Bari side won Serie B, finished ahead of second place Parma by four points. However, Conte and the club mutually terminated their association after the season, and Antonio was once again in search of a new club.

He would find that new club in Serie A, but he would also find far less success than he had with Bari. He took control of struggling Atalanta in September of 2009, but within two months the club was once again laying near the bottom of the table. Tensions between the Atalanta fans and Conte grew, and eventually the negative results became too much. At one point the police had to intervene to protect Conte from the Atalanta fans, and he would then resign.

Conte returned to Serie B, and there he found success once again. He took control of just relegated Siena, and led them to second place and automatic promotion in the 2010-2011 Serie B season. Coincidentally, Siena finished two points behind Conte’s ex-club and Serie B champions Atalanta.

As Siena earned a promotion to Serie A, so did their manager. Conte was called up to coach Juventus, which had been his dream since he started his managerial career. Conte, who had captained Juventus through their greatest heights in the ’90s, would now have to bring Juve back from the hole they had fallen into after Calciopoli.

Conte, armed with key new arrivals Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner, and Mirko Vucinic, crafted a side that harkened back to the Juve of old. He took the Agnelli’s “three S’s” – seriousness, sobriety, and simplicity – and applied it to his side. Conte’s Juventus would be a tough side, a hardworking side, and most importantly a winning side.

He also brought with him his favored 4-2-4 formation, but the emergence of Arturo Vidal encouraged him to switch to a 4-3-3. In fact, Conte has shown himself to be quite tactically adept this year. He has switched his tactics when the situation has called for it, like when he moved the side to a 3-5-2 in the middle of the season, and has created a tactical system that simply overpowers many sides.

The key features of his tactical system are relentless pressing and short, consistent passing. Of course, the great defense acts as a cornerstone for the side, sopping up attacks and then playing the ball to Pirlo, the regista, to start forward movements. This is seen in the high amount of longballs made by Juve’s centerbacks. Indeed, Leo Bonucci assisted Mirko Vucinic’s opening goal against Cagliari with a longball. The system also relies on the full backs (or in the 3-5-2, wingbacks) to defend AND attack competently.

Then there is the midfield. Vidal provides the strength, making tackles and winning possession. Pirlo is the architect, and Marchisio is the one who links the forwards to the midfield. Up top, Mirko Vucinic acts as a target man to play on the other forwards or wingers.

There is one thing that links Conte and the players together, despite their different roles: hustle. The players need to continually press and hassle opponents for a full 90 minutes, and they must never give up.

They didn’t give up in Naples, when they were down 3-1 at half time. Instead, they tapped their inner-Conte, and came back to draw 3-3. They didn’t give up after Milan took a 1-0 (with the wrongly called off Muntari goal, it was really 2-0) lead in Turin, once again tapping their inner-Conte and scoring two goals (one wrongly called offside, canceling the Muntari goal) to end the match in a 1-1 draw.

Looking at things from a broader point of view, the side did not lose their nerve during a very tight Scudetto race with A.C. Milan. Even when Juventus suffered a dip in form and drew several consecutive matches against provinciale, the team got back up and went on an eight match winning streak.

Of course, Juventus are still undefeated (although Atalanta could theoretically end that on Sunday), a further testament to the ability and dedication of Conte and his players. This Scudetto (and the undefeated streak) is a testament to Conte the coach, and Conte the man. Furthermore, it’s a testament to grinta that had been sorely missing from Turin for years.

With Conte at the helm, anything is possible for Juventus. And next year, he will embark on a European journey with his side. We will have to wait to see how Conte competes in Europe, but I think he’ll do pretty well.

Grazie Mister Conte, for everything you’ve done.

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