Juventus manager Antonio Conte has thrown the club’s recent revival into turmoil after receiving a 10-month ban from the game for his role in the Calcioscommesse scandal while he was manager at Siena – so where exactly does this leave the current Serie A champions going into the new campaign?
Italian football and scandal have been intertwined for years now, and Juventus have had their fair share in the past, having been relegated to Serie B back in 2006 for their role in a similar match-fixing scandal called Calciopoli, after they had their 2005 and 2006 title wins stripped off them, but this latest one is not of their own doing it has to be said.
It’s worth noting that Conte is still at liberty to train the players and prepare them for matches, but his 10-month ban applies to match-days and any competitive league fixture and he won’t be able to take his place in the dug-out, which could have an adverse effect on the team’s performances. Conte has been accused of failing to report alleged match-fixing involving former club Siena in the 2010-11 season, while assistant coach Angelo Alessio was also banned.
The next stage of developments will see Conte appeal his ban to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) but having had a plea bargain deal rejected by the FIGC earlier this month, the chances are slim. He put forward a proposal which would have seen him serve a three-month suspension and pay a fine of 200,000 euros but it was turned down and you sense that Conte knows his position as an unsackable title-winning manager is weakening the longer this whole affair drags on.
For their part, the club have stood by their man so far, releasing a statement shortly after the ban which read: “Juventus reiterates its full support for Antonio Conte and Angelo Alessio in the hope the next stage of the process will finally prove their innocence. A group of legal professionals have been appointed by the individuals concerned and, with the full support of the club, is already working to prepare grounds for an appeal.” The situation is far from ideal in what initially promised to be a summer that finally saw Juventus return to the pinnacle of the European game after they saw off AC Milan to clinch the Serie A title last season by four points.
Of course, since then, AC Milan have been severely weakened having sold both their best players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, to French club PSG, so the title is theirs for the taking yet again – the likes of Udinese, Roma, Lazio and Parma are way back at the moment, while Inter Milan appear to be going through a restructuring phase under the stewardship of 36 year-old former youth coach Andrea Stramaccioni, with little is expected of them in the short-term.
Luckily for Juventus, they got the majority of their business in the transfer market concluded early and have spent nearly £50m already this summer on the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla, Paul Pogba, Martin Caceres, Emanuele Giaccherini, Sebastian Giovinco and Brazilian defender Lucio. They have an extremely strong squad at the moment and they’re capable of making a serious impact in the latter stages of the Champions League should it all click together, but still the nagging doubts persist.
This summer they were thought to be in the market for a world-class striker to make good on their ambitions in Europe and they targeted Robin van Persie, the former Arsenal man who has just completed a sensational move to Manchester United. Whether the Dutchman was put off by the cloud currently hanging over the club, we don’t know, but it will surely impact on their ability to attract the star names in the future as there’s still an awful lot of uncertainty surrounding the club.
Should Conte lose his appeal and be forced to serve the entirety of his 10-month ban, despite winning the title for the club last term, there is no guarantee that should the board find that the current arrangement is not suiting them and is too much of a hindrance on the side, that the 43 year-old coach will still be there at the end of the season.
So far, they’ve backed him to the hilt, but things can change quickly in football and if they start the season poorly, despite Conte’s burgeoning reputation within the game, having helped the club go all of last season unbeaten, he could be sent packing and it’s hard to recruit players with such uncertainty around the club’s immediate future.
Last season, an Andrea Pirlo inspired the Old Lady to dominate the league, proving in the process that this current vintage is not only difficult to beat, but on their day, wonderful to watch and there’s a sense that the club aren’t quite cashing in on that potential and that this Conte ban could hold the club back.
The strength in depth of Serie A at the moment is at its weakest for a long time and Juventus could dominate for a sustained period with the right moves in the transfer market, for there is no clear challenger for the title. There’s almost guaranteed silverware on offer but this Conte ban, even if at the moment represents a minor annoyance, could soon turn into a major headache.
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