May 12, 2017

Conte: Making Of A Serial Winner  (Sky Sports)

Antonio ConteIn Italy he's known as `Il Martello' - The Hammer' - relentless in his quest for success. As Antonio Conte stands on the brink of winning his first Premier League title, Sky Sports reflects upon the career of a man who's already been a serial winner in the game, both as a player and a manager.

In his early career he was the local boy made good, a boyhood fan of his hometown club Lecce who would become their hero and earn a move to the big time with the Serie A giants Juventus.

"He's a midfielder who scored goals, who worked very hard for the team," said Fabrizio Ravanelli, a former team-mate of Conte at Juventus. "He was a good passer, a good header of the ball and he scored many important goals."

In 13 hugely successful seasons with Juve, Conte won no fewer than fifteen trophies - including, in 1996, the Champions League.

Alessandro Del Piero, who played alongside him throughout, believes it was a valuable education for a career in management.

"He didn't speak too much," he said. "This means that he was thinking, not talking. And he wanted to know everything that happened on the pitch and why."

After retiring as a player in 2004, Conte embarked on a career as a coach in the Italian lower leagues. With two clubs, Bari and Siena, he won promotion to Serie A. In 2011 his old club Juventus came back for him.

Ravanelli, who Conte took with him to Juve as youth team coach, recalls the message he gave to the chairman, Andrea Agnelli, on his return.

"Antonio said to the chairman - I remember very well - Juventus must win, must get back to winning and you need me to do this," he said.

Throughout Conte's playing career Juventus had largely known only success. But the club he returned to had been underperforming, finishing seventh in Serie A in the previous two campaigns. He told the players, in no uncertain terms, that they would have to do better.

"He talked about what Juve has been, especially to the new players," said Del Piero, "Because Juve has been an incredible story. All the time you need to talk with the team altogether to give the right messages. And then do it. Not only talk - do it."

In Conte's first season he changed the team's formation to 3-5-2. He used it for the first time in a game against Napoli, who were then coached by the current Watford boss Walter Mazzarri. In this game, in November 2011, Juventus came back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3.

"That was the turning point for Juventus," said Mazzarri, "That's when they kicked on to have a really important season. That's what gave Juventus the spur to go on and to win the title."

Juventus won the title in Conte's first season without losing a single Serie A game. It was a remarkable achievement for the coach whom the Italians call 'Il Martello' - 'The Hammer'.

"It's a nice way to describe his attitude," said Del Piero. "We have many more names for him but let's stay with `Martello!'"

"He never wants to take a day off," added Ravanelli, "Working with him, every day is the same."

At the time Conte was under scrutiny by the Italian authorities over claims of match-fixing. He would later be cleared of any blame. During the investigation, however, his former players recall he would take out some of his frustration on them.

"He spent more time with us as a trainer," said Del Piero. "It wasn't good for us! Well, it was good for us but he was more angry - more 'Martello'!

A year later Conte's Juve successfully defended their title - in spite of the challenge from Mazzarri's Napoli.

"Juventus found a great coach who motivated the players and gave them an identity in their style of play," said Mazzarri. "This, and the club doing so well on the recruitment side of things, meant they became a really good team."

One such recruit was the Spanish international Fernando Llorente.

"My year with Conte was the toughest season I've had in my career," said the now Swansea striker. "We worked very hard on fitness, which means that when you run out onto the pitch you almost feel like you're flying around it!"

Llorente scored 18 goals for Juventus in Conte's third and final season with the club. He helped them to win a third successive Scudetto with a Serie A record 102 points.

"The moment you win the league you have the feeling that it's all over," Llorente added. "But that wasn't the case for us. Conte insisted that we had to keep winning games as we had the chance to make history."

He signed off at Juventus as a title winner once again. Now he's on the brink of repeating the feat with Chelsea. To those who know him, it's no great surprise.

"When he signed the contract with Chelsea," said Ravanelli, "I was one hundred per cent sure Chelsea would win the league because I know Antonio. Antonio is a fantastic professional."

So Conte, the serial winner, is about to strike again it seems.

But Del Piero warned Chelsea's players that his former team-mate and coach will not be satisfied by winning this Premier League title alone.

"He'll have a great dinner with the players," said Del Piero. "And, at that dinner, he'll already be saying to the players - 'Guys, next year will be tougher. So, enjoy this but remember that we need to win more!'"

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