Simone Pepe says he is determined to put last season’s injury nightmare behind him by returning stronger than ever for the new campaign.
The winger’s energetic performances played an important role in lifting a rejuvenated Juventus back to title glory in the 2011/12 campaign following a six-year Scudetto absence.
But he found last season’s playing time restricted to a 20-minute cameo in the Coppa Italia against Lazio after suffering a series of heartbreaking setbacks in his bid to regain full fitness following a thigh injury sustained during July’s TIM Trophy tournament.
Now, after a long process of rehabilitation, he feels ready to return to first-team action and help the club achieve three successive league titles for the first time since 1935.
Addressing the media from the club’s pre-season base in Chatillon, Pepe began:“It’s been a tough year but I think that my problems are now over. My injury was more unique than rare, it was the first of its kind and nobody knew how to find a solution. Then we managed to solve it.
“I would like to thank my team-mates, family and the club. They have always made me feel important, even though I played very little. This has been my strength throughout the tough year I’ve gone through.”
Pepe, who says he targeting the Bianconeri’s Italian Super Cup clash against Lazio on 18 August as a realistic comeback date, told reporters of the hard work he has undergone over the summer in order to speed up his rehabilitation.
“I combined work and holiday, taking the physio with me. We worked for four weeks, then I came back to Vinovo a week earlier to give myself a head start before Chatillon. Now I’ll do another seven days of individual training before linking up with the rest of the team.”
The 29-year-old, popular with fans and players alike, will return to a significantly bolstered Juventus squad following the recent acquisitions of Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente and Angelo Ogbonna.
But whilst acknowledging the impact the new arrivals will have in raising the quality of the group, Pepe warned that the Bianconeri will be forced to fight all the way if they are to fend off challengers in both Italy and Europe.
“We’ve got a very strong side but know that we must improve. In Italy there’s the target of winning our third straight Scudetto, while there are other strong teams in Europe. We’ll try and hold our own and naturally we’ve got greater awareness of our abilities with the likes of Tevez, Llorente and Ogbonna, who are three extremely important signings.”
“There are good teams capable of challenging us. There’s Milan, Fiorentina and Roma, while Inter have a new manager, something which always gives players added motivation.
“Many sides will try and throw us off course. We’re a strong team, but achieving a historic and indescribable third Scudetto will take consistency and plenty of work.”
However, under the guidance of Antonio Conte and with thousands of passionate Bianconeri fans roaring the team on every week, Pepe is adamant that complacency will not prove an issue.
“Everyone knows about the manager’s desire to win and the desire he brings across to us. Absolutely nothing’s changed as far as we’re concerned. When you win two titles, you then want three. I think that’s perfectly natural.
“We’re now more mature than we were two years ago, meaning we have an even better understanding of the importance that Juventus’ shirt brings and how much it means to all our fans.”