Antonio Conte’s Ban Will Slow, But Not Halt, Juventus’ Return to Greatness

Antonio Conte's Ban Will Slow, But Not Halt, Juventus' Return to GreatnessAntonio Conte earned his reputation as Italy’s top manager by leading Juventus to an extraordinary season in 2011-12.

His tactical nous and famous motivational skills returned the “Old Lady” to the top of the Italian game, and the team is poised to challenge for honors at home and abroad in the coming years. The 10-month ban with which Conte has been slapped won’t stop this from happening.

Conte was sanctioned by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) for his role in the “Scommessopoli” (or “Calcioscommesse”) match-fixing scandal. He was convicted of having knowledge that a Serie B game between Siena (the club he managed in 2010-11) and Albinoleffe was fixed and not reporting it to the authorities. The FIGC announced the punishment earlier this month, and an Italian court rejected Conte’s appeal on Tuesday.

The man who led Juventus to an unbeaten league campaign last season will be absent from the sidelines for the entire 2012-13 season. Earlier this month, the club announced that Conte will remain in his role — regardless of the outcome of the trial and appeal. He is that important to the current Juve project.

The lenient nature of the ban ensures that Juventus will continue to benefit from the Conte effect. Like any manager, he can work with the team on a day-to-day basis, lead practice and pick the gameday squad. But he will be barred from communicating with the team before and during the games (at the stadium), and he won’t talk to the media afterwards.

On gameday, assistant coach Massimo Carrera will be the outward-looking face of the club, but Conte will be the sun around which the world of Juve revolves during the week. Director general Beppe Marotta was unwavering in his support of the 43-year-old tactician, according to Football Italia.

“Antonio was the main architect of winning the league and, even considering the fact that the modern role of the coach is primarily to manage his group, we are convinced that the work to take place during the week is still fundamental,” Marotta said.

“The game will be a bit like an examination for a student, who must study in the days before so as to pass.

“He is the manager of a group that recognizes him as a leader, whilst Juventus are champions and we are convinced that will make up for his absence.”

Rather than destabilize the winning environment Conte created in Turin, the scandal could serve as a motivating force at the club. Fans and officials lay claim to the two Serie A titles (2005 and 2006) that were stripped because of Juve’s involvement in the “Calciopoli” scandal in 2006. Conte’s ban, and those of his assistants Cristian Stellini and Angelo Alessio, only adds to Juve’s sense of injustice.

One need only look at the 2007-08 New England Patriots to see what can happen when a team rallies around its embattled leader. Before that National Football League (NFL) season, head coach Bill Belichick was charged with ordering members of his staff to illegally videotape opposition coaches during games. Belichick and the Patriots were punished — to the fullest extent — for the “Spygate” scandal. Their players responded with one of the most dominant campaigns in NFL history.

It’s unlikely that a man of iron will like Conte will let his personal troubles derail his club’s fierce march into the future. At this point, the most visable negative effect has been a failure to land Robin van Persie from Arsenal. Top players will be wary of joining a club that is hounded by scandal, but the clock is already ticking toward June 9, 2013, when Conte’s sideline ban will be lifted (the Italian Olympic Committe will hear his appeal in September, and it could reduce his band). Juve still may lack that “world-class” forward, but it already enjoyed a fruitful summer in the transfer market. Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla were signed from Udinese, Lucio joined from Inter Milan and Sebastian Giovinco returns from Parma.

Those reinforcements should keep Juventus far ahead of the chasing pack of Italian clubs, and it will embark on the UEFA Champions League campaign with talent, confidence and depth. Juventus may not go unbeaten in 43 of 44 games as it did last season, but it will continue to move forward because the one who is most responsible for that feat remains firmly in place. That will remain the case for the forseeable future.

Have a question for Marcus Kwesi O’Mard? Send it to him via Twitter at @NESNsoccer, NESN Soccer’s Facebook page or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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