Juventus are once again at the center of an event which has completely reshaped the landscape of the game in Italy.
Even in an age of twenty-four hour news coverage, Antonio Conte’s resignation as Juventus manager arrived like a lightning strike, the first whispers leaking less than fifteen minutes before the club confirmed the 44-year-old had quit. Later, a recorded interview from Conte, a former Juventus captain, confirmed his own departure, and an open letter from Juventus President Andrea Agnelli attempted to console ailing supporters, thanking Conte for the “three years in which we rewrote this club’s history” and noting that the news had “saddened him greatly.” Supporters felt exactly the same way, deeply shocked that the man responsible for transforming La Madama back into a serial winner was gone.
Before Conte’s arrival in 2011, Juventus had lost what made it so great, and the the conviction and spirit that had always defined the club was decimated by years of mismanagement. But under Conte, that changed: despite finishing in seventh place in two consecutive Serie A campaigns, the club instantly became champions under the guidance of the former Siena coach. Despite having only nineteen games of top flight experience, Conte not only led them to the league title in his inaugural season, but he also did so without losing a single game.
It didn’t stop there. Not content with following that undefeated season with a second Scudetto, Conte would steer Juventus into the Champions League quarter-final. His third year would see the club record an all-time high points total (102), a perfect home record, and end the season with a comfortable seventeen point lead over second placed Roma.
And then, just like that, he was gone.
Agnelli said in his statement that “Juventus must continue on its path,” and indeed she must, the loss of the manager another obstacle for the Bianconeri to overcome in its relentless pursuit of glory. It appears Conte’s pathological desire to win had left him exhausted and unable to continue, although the true reasons for the resignation may never be known.
What is evident is that the club acted quickly following the news, appointing Massimiliano Allegri the very next day. Fans protested outside the club’s training ground as the new manager held his inaugural press conference, angry at the former AC Milan boss taking a seat on the nation’s most prestigious bench. With the 46-year-old overseeing the Rossoneri’s worst season in the recent history, their displeasure was understandable, although it may be misplaced.
Allegri had many flaws during his San Siro tenure, but he was no more responsible for the continued exodus of Milan’s top stars than Conte was for Juventus taking three years to find him a competent goal scorer. The manager—sacked last January with his side languishing in mid-table—was a convenient scapegoat for a dysfunctional management structure floundering in football’s modern era.
But any impact Allegri may hope to have is superseded by that of Conte’s exit, now a fixed point in the timeline of Juventus’ storied history. Like the Gregorian calendar, it could be a moment in time where everything that happens afterwards is viewed as a direct result of his exit, “before Conte left” could become part of the daily vocabulary of Italian football fans just as Calciopoli has.
Like that scandal of 2006, the Bianconeri are once again at the center of an event which has completely reshaped the landscape of the game on the peninsula. With Juventus still not fully recovered from the after-effects of Luciano Moggi’s punishment, they must hope these most recent developments do not cause equal damage.
If that may seem overly dramatic, it must be remembered just how much Conte affected every single aspect of his side, how meticulous and persuasive his approach and style was upon his players. Even an established star like Andrea Pirlo has spoken about how awestruck he was by a coach who had “fire running through his veins and moved like a viper.” Writing in his autobiography, Pirlo recalled Conte’s edict to his team that—as Juventus players—they had “a moral obligation” to win. He went on to describe the manager as a man “completely immersed in his job and possessing a never-ending inner torment.” A winner.
Now that Conte is gone, Pirlo and his teammates face a unique opportunity. They must prove that they can win without their incredible leader. Antonio Conte has thrown a huge stone into La Madama’s still waters, and now it is up to the players to not let the waves wash over them, but to stand and fight and win just as he taught them to.