x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Juventus set to go the distance but may have to do it without Conte

Antonio Conte is appealing his ban but it appears Juve will be without their head coach on the touchline for 10 months with the start of the Serie A season Saturday writes Ian Hawkey.

Unless he wins his appeal, Juventus will have to make do without head coach Antonio Conte on their touchline at games for the next 10 months.
Unless he wins his appeal, Juventus will have to make do without head coach Antonio Conte on their touchline at games for the next 10 months.

Mixed news for the defending Serie A champions on Wednesday, as the head coach, Antonio Conte's appeal against a 10-month touchline ban was rejected.

Two Juve players, Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe, however, had their acquittals for alleged attempts to fix a match between their previous clubs, Bari and Udinese, upheld.

The players may be cleared, and the nature of Conte's suspension is such that he can continue to work with Juve on the practice ground, but the latest scandal to rock Italian domestic football is still casting a shadow.

Juve begin the defence of their league title tomorrow, at home to Parma, with Conte confined to the grandstands.

Unless he is successful with a further appeal to the Italian Olympic Committee's tribunal next month, a demanding season will also be a test of his communicative ingenuity.

Conte maintains he is innocent of the one charge upheld yesterday: Of failing to report an attempt at match-fixing while he was coach of Siena in Serie B during 2010/11.

The long-term investigation into various fixtures, mainly in Serie B, has stained the reputation of the Italian game generally.

If calcio has developed a thick skin to these sorts of scandals, it should also be reported that the game is far better served by investigative mechanisms than it used to be.

It is six years since Juve themselves were at the centre of a separate and damaging crisis of the sport's credibility to do with the manipulation of referees.

Conte's setback is very different but he himself will want to harness the situation as a motivational tool for the campaign to come.

Once again, Juve can tell themselves the authorities are stymieing them, and declare: "Let's show them we won't be cowed. Forza Juve! Let's show them what we are made of".

The lessons of 2011/12, when Juve finished top of the table for the first time since 2006, were that there is an obdurate character to Conte's Juve, and plenty of talent and resourcefulness.

They went unbeaten through the whole league season.

That is hard trick to pull off twice in succession, especially as Juventus must now combine domestic mastery with renewed acquaintance with the Champions League.

They were not in Europe last season and Conte will know from his playing days of a successful Juve of the 1990s and early Noughties, that two pressure matches a week is a very distinct diet to one.

More so, if the coach is doing his plotting and shifting from out of earshot of his bench or the pitch. Juventus have strengthened the squad, though, and will hope to have signed a premium-class striker by the close of the transfer window after having pursued Robin van Persie in vain - the Dutchman joined Manchester United from Arsenal - and met frustrations in their chase for Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente.

Any new striker at Juve should be pleased at the kind of service he can anticipate.

Sebastian Giovinco, an excellent creator for Parma last term, and Udinese's clever Kwadwo Asamoah have joined a midfield already boasting Andrea Pirlo and several players who provide energy and width.

As Juve look at the challengers, they see a weakened AC Milan, with the totems Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva both sold to Paris Saint-Germain.

Milan will venture into the market again before September 1, but there is anxiety among supporters who learnt that Antonio Cassano was on the verge of completing his move to Inter Milan, with another Italy international striker, Giampaolo Pazzini coming in the opposite direction.

Cassano joins an Inter in transition, without the distraction of the Champions League.

There is ongoing transition at Roma, too, where morale will have been boosted by Daniele De Rossi's apparent decision to resist a tempting offer to join Manchester City and stick with the club he has served all his career.

Fiorentina have been busy recruiting to stave off the kind of nervous April and May they endured, perilously close to the relegation zone at the close of last term.

Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani should give them enough authority in midfield to avoid any repeat.

Napoli have lost an icon in Ezequiel Lavezzi but, after an exhilarating trip in the Champions League, have the appetite and maturity to return there in 2013/14, via a spot in Serie A's eventual top three.


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