x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Antonio Conte's impressive start as coach at Juventus

Antonio Conte has sparked an immediate revival at Juventus since taking over as manager.

Antonio Conte, right, the Juventus coach, celebrates with his players, from left to right, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Simone Pepe during their 2-0 win over AC Milan on Sunday.
Antonio Conte, right, the Juventus coach, celebrates with his players, from left to right, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Simone Pepe during their 2-0 win over AC Milan on Sunday.

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Antonio Conte is his piercing blue eyes. They suggest a steeliness that was apparent when he played in the midfield of an all-conquering Juventusteam in the 1990s.

Conte has a sharp blade of a tongue when necessary, too. He once produced a celebrated riposte to a notoriously garrulous opponent on the pitch. Marco Materazzi teased him with a reference to his thinning thatch: "Go and get a hair transplant," the Inter Milan defender said. Quick as a flash, Conte replied: "What you need is a brain transplant."

Conte saves most of his better jokes for private exchanges these days; his persona as the head coach of Italian football's most decorated club is all seriousness and rigour.

"He's a tough boss," said Alessandro Del Piero, the club captain and a long enough servant of Juve to have coincided on the pitch with Conte for eight years, up to Conte's departure as a player in 2004.

Conte returned last summer, with feathers in his cap as a manager, notably for having guided Siena up from Serie B. Yet, among Juventus supporters, there was scepticism about the arrival of another young man - he is 42 - at the helm.

The club's recent, troubled history features unusually frequent changes of manager and a schizophrenic fluctuation between youthful, Juve-in-their-blood coaches and older been-around-the-block veterans.

Didier Deschamps, a contemporary of Conte's in the Juventus side that lifted the Champions League in 1996, steered the club up from Serie B after they were relegated as punishment for the calciopoli scandal. He then suddenly quit.

Ciro Ferrara, the former Juve defender from the same generation, took over in 2009. He lasted less than 12 months.

Conte knows about these ghosts, but in Juve's new stadium, they can at least be seen to be haunting elsewhere. Sunday's 2-0 win over AC Milan marked a significant milestone in his tenure.

In the unbeaten run that has taken Juventus to the top of Serie A, some clear Conte principles have emerged.

His Juve will play with width, close to a 4-2-4 formation when on top, and they look unlikely to buckle as easily as the Juventus squads that finished seventh the last two seasons.

Endorsements for the new man in charge are flowing. "He's just what Juve needed," said Marcello Lippi, the head coach at the club when Conte was the Juve captain. "He's well organised, tactically mature, and he's got a bit of rage."