Conte left no heir apparent at Juve
Dejected, abandoned, depressed, brokenhearted, sad, wretched, inconsolable. In the words of Pablo Neruda,"Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air."
The emptiness is certainly large enough to carry within it hundreds of adjectives to describe the pain of perceived abandonment, of rejection by the Old Lady's great lover. On Tuesday, Antonio Conte announced his resignation, his sadness visible, his mind in overdrive. With one simple video message, he shattered the hearts of the millions of fans who idolise the coach who rescued the Old Lady from a troubled future.
While Monday's discussions centred around which tactics and possible formations Conte would deploy in the new season, Tuesday was spent mourning his departure -- and then began the frantic search for a replacement.
Who can replace the irreplaceable? Calciopoli destroyed Italian football, particularly Juventus, and while the Turin giants at first tried to demonstrate they are a club that would always fight, coming back to Serie A with a bang, eventually the fight became too difficult and mediocrity was embraced. Seventh place was all the team could muster; winning mentalities sought alternative locations to thrive.
With great confidence and a personality larger than life, Conte arrived with ideas, plans and the determination to succeed. His passionate vision of a successful Juve future is what convinced Andrea Agnelli to appoint him and what won the hearts of all Juventini.
His first objective was to bring life to Giampiero Boniperti's celebrated words, "Winning is not important, it's the only thing that counts," so a three-year cycle of unbridled success not only captured the attention of Europe but resurrected a fallen reputation.
Alongside the players he nurtured, Conte grew both as a man and as a tactician. His previous ideas with regards to a particular style of play were shelved and in their place a strategy that would best highlight the strengths of his squad was adopted. Having played a 4-3-3 and different variations of a 3-5-2, the former captain not only won a hat trick of Scudetti but created a winning side that demonstrated balance, heart and the soldier mentality that once defined the club.
He forced the beauty of Andrea Pirlo's geometric passes to dominate headlines again, by providing the strategy and runners required to highlight this particular strength. He gave Paul Pogba the stage to perform, to feel important and to understand that with passion, mental fortitude and tactical understanding, he can climb every mountain. He charged the batteries of the relentless Arturo Vidal. His muse, the man with a seemingly endless amount of energy, was the example Conte used to inspire a squad, teaching them that with sheer determination and exemplary levels of fitness, players become champions.
Everything from his character to his understanding of the Juve way ensured Conte only ever tasted success on the Bianconeri bench -- at least on a domestic level. With his hard work, sweat and tears, he gave his Old Lady and her legions of fans memories that will last forever and the belief that whatever problems they suffer, they have what it takes to recover.
Yet despite his many achievements, Conte was far from perfect and committed several errors that led to frustration. Rigid with his ideas and a capitalist at heart, he couldn't fathom mounting a genuine challenge in Europe with the group of players he had. Except he could have, and not only were his men superior in talent to the many opponents they faced, they were forced to believe they were not enough.
Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno showed genuine annoyance when he learned his club would have to face Juventus in the Champions League. While he visibly pondered the result of a difficult challenge, the Bianconeri man in charge showed a defeatist attitude by conceding that Galatasaray were their equals and their challengers for second place. They were not even competing for first place with a Spanish side they have defeated many times, including after Calciopoli. The Bianconeri were simply ill-prepared for the challenges and lacking in cohesion at a time brilliance was expected -- especially against the likes of Copenhagen.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Madrid, Diego Simeone told his group of men, players who have disappointed in the past, that with belief they could change history. They did. They delighted their fans and neutrals alike as they squashed opponent after opponent to reach the final. Their story is a unique one, a fairy tale.
One has to agree that Juventus lacked players with varied skill, but, as Atletico demonstrated, they were still capable of progressing much further in the competition and of reaching the final in the Europa League, yet they disappointed on both occasions.
The revenue lost by not progressing in the competition is perhaps a reason that a player may be sold. For that, Conte has to also accept his fair share of the responsibility. One has to concede that players leave and seek new challenges even when they are part of the very best squads. The mark of a true great is a coach who continues to evolve, to build and to win despite the many obstacles ahead of him.
Yet the potential sale of a player is not the reason for the departure. Juventus CEO Beppe Marotta confirmed that they were not negotiating Vidal's sale, and the Chilean is happy to stay put. In truth, there are several reasons for Conte's resignation, beginning with the tactician's loss of motivation, of the will to continue a journey in which he feels he has given and gotten all he needs. While we point to the development of Pogba and the refinement of Vidal, people forget that in these last three years, Conte was learning and developing too.
The problem is he cannot see room for improvement at Juventus anymore. He cannot experiment with new tactics simply because he believes, rightly or wrongly, that he needs a new squad or at least several new players. He cannot work with different champions because not many can be brought in. He no longer wishes to work in a country that demands too much and supports very little, and he's worried he has reached a level where the players may no longer be as motivated by his character as they would have previously been.
He has been pondering his near future for some time now, and while he accepted to stay on after winning the last Scudetto, in his heart of hearts, he could not provide the answers to the questions the competitive spirit within him sought.
He laid down his cards and explained his thoughts to the Bianconeri management and accepted that leaving was the best solution for him and the club. Yet the timing of the decision had left the team in a desperate situation. Good coaches have already taken their places, working with directors to exploit the opportunities on the transfer market, and the club now has no option but to think of a short-term strategy, a Band-Aid appointment to continue the work before a new winning project can be created.
And so the club welcomed Massimiliano Allegri, a good tactician but, based on his experience with Milan, a woeful manager. A man often accused of knowing how to play Barcelona but one who struggled to win against the minnows of Serie A. His inability to motivate a team to play with all their heart and soul in every match, regardless of its importance, essentially led to his downfall in Milan.
Yet Juventus is a different club, less glamorous but certainly more dedicated. Allegri deserves a chance to prove he has learned from his errors and to be allowed to demonstrate his vast tactical intelligence, but he must also prove that he can train the squad effectively, to minimise injuries and maintain exemplary levels of fitness throughout the season.
He led Sassuolo to a historic promotion, captured Italy's attention at Cagliari and won a Scudetto at Milan. His two-year contract and hasty appointment demonstrate that he's not a long-term solution, but a man who can carry the team for a year.
Allegri's successor, the man whom management will now patiently search for over the next year, will be the coach they hope can carry on the ascendancy to unparalleled success.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.