Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Italian football’s very own Tony D’Amato was back pacing the touchline on Sunday, geeing up the troops and generally being tough on everyone - himself included.
Antonio Conte was last seen doing his best impression of Al Pacino's bruiser coach character from Oliver Stone’s American football epic Any Given Sunday back in May, as his Juventus side went down to Napoli in the Italian Cup Final.
From there on, the Puglia-born tough guy has been battling to clear his name, after it was dragged through the mud during the ongoing Calcioscomisse investigations. He had been found guilty of failing to report alleged match-fixing amongst his players during his spell in charge of Siena, and paid for it severely.
Handed a ten-month ban from all match-day activities that was later reduced to four months, Conte has been left sitting in the stands relaying orders via phone to the dug-out; first to Massimo Carrera and then Angelo Alessio, who was at Siena with Conte and had also received a ban. His two closest allies had continued the good work through ninety minutes every weekend, but as Conte admitted, it was the toughest period of his life. Had the Juve manager not previously undergone a rather expensive hair
transplant, he may have been tempted to tear the lot out in frustration.
The freedom to take training on a daily basis may have helped, but he could not be there come show time, so it was massive relief when he walked out of the dark tunnel into the half-light of a dank Sunday afternoon at the Barbera stadium.
How we have missed Conte and the inspirational performances from the sidelines which have helped inspire his Juventus team to recreate the will to win of his playing days. There was a TV camera – dubbed the Conte-Cam – trained on his every move, and he did not disappoint, with a highly animated performance worthy of a whoo-ha or two.
Palermo provided the perfect venue for his return: Sicily has 43 Juventus-registered supporters’ clubs, only four fewer than in the club’s home region of Piedmont, with the Old Lady able to call on an estimated one million fans from the island.
They were dotted all over the ground, ready to greet their returning hero. Former Juve midfielder and now club director Pavel Nedved perfectly summed up what it meant to have Conte back where he belonged; “He is our twelfth man, a true champion. We can now keep going forward with even greater desire.”
Of course, match-day is not about histrionics from the touchline, and even as Conte tried to join his players in kicking every ball, you could see they were performing for their talismanic figure first and foremost.
They glanced over to the bench every time a move hit its mark or a pass went astray, and each time the reaction lifted their spirits as their leader - wearing a baseball cap to protect that expensively-laid mane - cajoled, calmed and on a couple of occasions bawled them out.
Maybe at times the players looked as if they were trying too hard, but on a pitch sodden after two days of persistent rain, there seemed little doubt Juve would finally make the breakthrough.
It came early in the second half, with a player who sometimes seems to be able to walk on water skill-wise – Mirko Vucinic – producing a sublime back-heel to release Stephan Lichtsteiner inside the area, with the full-back slotting home the only goal of the game.
The home side were reduced to ten men when Michele Morganella received a second yellow card, but the Bianconeri should really have been out of sight long before that. Juve’s profligacy did not please Conte, who warned that had Palermo equalised he would have sent the team into the dreaded ritiro ahead of Wednesday’s Coppa Italia tie with Cagliari.
It is all about team-work for Conte, and as the Pacino character exalted in one of his team talks: “On any given Sunday you're gonna win or you're gonna lose. The point is - can you win or lose like a man?”
Latest Italian Football News
Milan snatch Champions League spot late on
Lamela earns Argentina call-up as Messi understudy
Milan striker Pazzini out for up to six months
Rome derby cup final a potential powder keg
Milan ultras want Allegri to stay as coach
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010