Since 7 April 2012, Juventus have played forty-five league matches, won two league titles and have never been knocked off their top spot in the table. And it is his players’ desire to carry on in the same way that Antonio Conte believes will spur them on in their first encounter of the season tomorrow evening against Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Speaking to the media at Vinovo this afternoon, he said: “I'm banking on my players' motivation to stay up there, and the only way to do that it to take all three points. Last year we lost to them both at home and away and I hope things go differently this time around.
“We are facing a very good team made up of young players with an experienced leader in Delio Rossi, a man who keeps a low profile but gets things done. We will run into problems, but we must start in the best way possible.”
It is not realistic to expect the team to have hit peak fitness just yet, but they have already managed to hit their first target of the season, putting four goals past Lazio to claim the Italian Super Cup.
On the topic of his side’s fitness, the 44-year-old commented: “I would be concerned if we were fully fit at this stage. That would mean we hadn't worked so much, concentrating only on starting well.
“No team can be 100% fit now, and playing ten of last year's first eleven against Lazio did the trick, as they knew the tactics inside-out. This, along with the motivation and determination of the players, was a great help and we have placed the first trophy of the season in the trophy cabinet.
“Now we are approaching the first step on a long path. It was nice to win the Super Cup because out of the seven trophies available we have won four in the space of two years. The figures are incredible, if you think that at the beginning of our project we planned to be putting in a challenge for our first Scudetto this season.
“It would make history if we won another title, but I'm aware that's difficult and my experience as a footballer tells me the same. We must all be perfect – club, players, staff, fans – and stick together without taking anything for granted.”
The Bianconeri are widely thought of as favourites to take the Scudetto, something which Conte accepts but with a few necessary clarifications.
He continued: “The starting grid isn't important: many clubs have bought players, spending much more than we have, which is what happened in the past few years. But I hear people saying that the gap between Juve and their rivals has widened. So, I ask myself, what will happen when we do have a bigger budget? Will you just hand us the Intercontinental Cup?
“The truth is that Juve can't get away from being considered favourites because we won the Scudetto. We had the same situation last year for the very same reason and we were able to prove we were the best. Two years ago, however, we were not favourites, but we won all the same, by proving on the pitch that we deserved the title. That's what we'll have to do again this year and we know that it isn't going to be easy.”
He then added that the best way to prove that his side deserve the title is quite simple: “By winning. That’s because, turning around and looking back at the path you’ve just come up on your way to success, you feel unique emotions that compensate for all the sacrifices you’ve had to make.
“Winners always want to keep winning, and we should always have the desire to try to relive the emotions of recent seasons. Let’s remember what we’ve come through and that will give us the motivation we need to try to experience the same feelings again.”
Juve are perfectly equipped to achieve their aims this season and he described how the abundance of world-class players in the squad is the least of his worries. The squad has plenty of cover, but having to do without Marchisio for a while is something that he nonetheless believes is a big blow.
On the subject of the 27-year-old’s injury, he said: “The side will miss him, and so will I. Because he’s an important player who, together with everyone else in the squad, has made me a winning coach.
“I always want to have all my players available all the time: there’ll come a time when I’ll be forced to make a choice, knowing that I’ll have quality players on the bench. But I also see games such as the one between Barcelona and Levante, where Messi starts and Neymar comes on as a substitute 10 minutes from the end of the game. Or Bayern, where Robben isn’t an automatic starter and where Thiago Alcantara comes on 20 minutes before the final whistle. If these were the only problem s to worry about…”
Nor does he consider tactics a problem, despite people often talking about a possible change in formation: “I’m starting to think that it’s our opponents or the press who want the change. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘What are they talking about?’ I win playing the tactics I’ve chosen to play – yet they expect me to change. Why? I swear, I can’t think of a good answer, but as soon as I have one, I’ll let you know!” the coach beamed at the gathered journalists.
But the smiles disappeared when questions turned to the subject of racism at football grounds: “Everyone has to unite and stand up against every single violent act or moment of unacceptable behaviour on the part of the fans.
“For a start, the press shouldn’t give so much prominence to the vile and violent incidents. There are racism chants during games? OK, shut the Curva down. No matter which Curva it is. And then nothing more should be said about the matter. After one, two or three such incidents, they’ll think twice before repeating certain behaviour.”