Four months after an Italian court reduced a ban that was to last the entire season, Juventus coach Antonio Conte is set to return to the sidelines tomorrow as the Bianconeri travel to Palermo. Barred to this point for failing to report match fixing during his time at Bari, Conte returns to find his team in first place, scarcely worse off than when he last coached them in May. While Juventus’s unbeaten run has ended, they are still top of Serie A and arguably in a better position than last year, when a propensity for draws kept them neck-and-neck with Milan for most of the season.
Despite already accumulating two losses, Juventus is probably a better team than last year. Then, the Old Lady didn’t have to balance Europe with domestic concerns. This year, they finished first in their Champions League group while maintaining their lead in Italy. They’re scoring more goals, averaging over two per game, and while they’re also giving up more, they’re on pace to put up a +55 difference. Last year, the finished at +48.
Since all that has been done without Conte on the sideline, it’s worth asking where a coach’s value lies. Though Conte’s been suspended, he has been running the team, simply demurring at game time to leave the in-match duties with technical director-turned-stand-in coach Massimo Carrera and assistant Angelo Alessio. The set up is his. The approach is his. The vision is his. The only things that aren’t his are the in-game adjustments.
Perhaps with those in-game adjustments, Juventus would still be undefeated, but Conte’s situation reminds us most of a coach’s work happens before the game starts. Most often it’s in the preparation that men win matches, and that’s where Conte’s influence has continued to be felt.
Juventus’s stars have talked up the boost Conte’s return will bring, and perhaps psychologically, it will. But with a 11-2-2 Juventus sitting on top of the league, it’s hard to think they’ve missed Conte that much.
Of course, that’s because he’s been there all along.