After lavishing praise on his coaches in the build-up to last week’s home clash with Cagliari, Antonio Conte took the opportunity to pay tribute to another group of unsung heroes, the club’s medical staff, ahead of the Bianconeri’s final Serie A meeting of the season against Sampdoria.
Juventus’ remarkable fitness levels and short injury list have been fundamental factors behind another campaign to remember, leading Conte to share the credit with those responsible for keeping the players in peak condition.
The first topic on the agenda in this afternoon’s press conference was the fitness of Simone Pepe. The winger, who formed an integral part of last year’s side, has been restricted to a spectator’s role this time around, with a brief Coppa Italia cameo against Lazio his only first-team action of a frustrating campaign.
Head of the club’s medical staff, Fabrizio Tencone, began: “Pepe’s been the main worry. He sustained a slight injury in July, but his recovery process resulted in a series of problems with the appearance of fibrous tissue and calcification.
“We were close to getting him back and he also managed to play a few minutes, but the problem returned and we needed to undergo surgery on a muscle injury. Pepe is fine and continuing to progress in line with our schedule. However, putting a time frame on his return to action would be premature at this stage.”
Another member of the first-team squad on the comeback trail is Mauricio Isla. The Chilean defender has experienced a stop-start season in his bid to recover from a cruciate knee ligament injury suffered whilst in action for former club Udinese.
And after working hard to return to full fitness, Tencone believes the 25-year-old has plenty of reason to be optimistic for the next campaign.
“He sustained a particularly serious injury last season and we were aware of that, but the surgeons did a great job with the operation. He’s in good physical and medical condition and this year he’s sharpened up the coordination and characteristics that an athlete returning from a long injury can only regain with time. He’ll be even more prepared and efficient over the coming months.”
The entire medical staff were in full agreement when asked about the connection between a player’s psychological state and ability to make a speedy recovery.
Team doctor Luca Stefanini continued: “It’s fundamental and linked to the team as a whole. If we’re winning, it gives those on the sidelines even greater motivation to return as soon as possible.”
Stefanini then moved on to discuss the dynamics of the close working relationship with Conte.
“The manager’s been very clear from our first meeting onwards. Handling on-field matters is his area of expertise. When players are experiencing difficulties, they speak to him first. He acts almost as a filter between us and them. This means that players who aren’t genuinely injured don’t even see us, you would think twice before complaining to the coach.”
When asked to identify the most resilient members of Conte’s first-team squad, Gianluca Stesina had no hesitation in providing two names.
The first-team sanitary manager said: “Vidal, who only comes off when he genuinely can’t carry on, or Chiellini. There have actually been many minor cases in which all the players have grit their teeth, continuing to play even with slight ailments and helping us out. This is a way in which certain problems that might have sidelined a player have been overcome.”
First-team nutritionist, Matteo Pincella, brought the conference to a close by praising the players’ professional approach in maintaining a strict diet throughout the campaign.
Pincella added: “I haven’t had any problems in ensuring the players stick to the nutritional plan. This group works hard, the players are true professionals and are also becoming athletes.”