Juventus celebrate title, but coach Conte already planning major rebuild
Regardless of whether it's No.29 or No.31, Juve fans are still chuffed
Juventus unites and divides Italy in equal measure, but on Sunday, from Turin to Trapani, the piazzas were a sea of black and white as the Old Lady claimed her 29th Serie A title.
Needing just a point from their home fixture with Palermo, it was achieved in routine manner. A 1-0 win sealed the deal, eleven years to the day after Antonio Conte and Gigi Buffon starred in the Marcello Lippi side that lifted the 2001/02 title at Udine.
Of course, the Turin club will never accept that it has not won 31 titles, having been stripped of the 2005 and 2006 scudetti following the Calciopoli scandal, so the banners and shields marked the occasion in what many would call lo stile Juve (the Juve style). Whatever the record books may say, JuveÃ¢ÂÂs 2012/13 has been a season even more dominant than the one before it.
Top of the table from day one, ConteÃ¢ÂÂs side opened the campaign with a run of eight straight wins. When the final whistle sounded at the Juventus Stadium on Sunday, they were on the back of nine wins from the last 10 games.
Although Juventus may not have matched last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs undefeated league campaign, losing four times, Conte has actually overseen six more wins, putting the former midfielder on top of the coaching podium.
Still only 43, Conte has two titles and two promotions to his name as a coach, to go with the five titles he won as a Juve player. So it is no surprise his bargaining power is at all-time high.
As his players were dumping him in the dressing room plunge pool, the clubÃ¢ÂÂs hierarchy were attempting to pour cold water on speculation their inspirational team leader would not be around for a tilt at the treble, with big-spending PSG touted as a possible destination.
Conte laps up the adulation as his team storm to their second straight title
It has been a tough year for Conte, who spent the first four months watching his team from behind a Perspex glass window in the stands, as he served a ban for failing to report a potential match fixing when in charge at Siena.
The original sentence had been set at 10 months, but even though the subsequent appeal was successful, it did little to ease ConteÃ¢ÂÂs paranoia that someone was out to get him Ã¢ÂÂ which he will no doubt shed more light on when his autobiography hits the shelves on Wednesday.
The club had to take some of the blame for the situation their coach found himself in, as their legal team had advised him to accept a plea bargain when the allegations first came to light.
ConteÃ¢ÂÂs right-hand man Angelo Alessio was also embroiled in what became known as Ã¢ÂÂCalcioscommesseÃ¢ÂÂ, and was banned for two months. This left assistant coach and former Juve defender Massimo Carrera with the role of overseeing the match-day preparations, but everyone knew that, even in exile, Conte was pulling the strings.
Having lost to both the Milanese clubs in November, with Inter ending the unbeaten run at the Juventus Stadium, ConteÃ¢ÂÂs return to the touchline at the beginning of December coincided with a dip in form. It was almost as if the players felt they had done the hard work without their boss in close proximity, and could now coast.
Another home defeat at the turn of the year, this time to lowly Sampdoria, opened ConteÃ¢ÂÂs eyes to the fact his side lacked the strength and depth to take on rest of Italy Ã¢ÂÂ and indeed, Europe when the Champions League returned in February.
The winter transfer window only brought meagre tidings, in the form of defensive cover Federico Peluso and luxury signing Nicolas Anelka, who has thus far only played 23 minutes in the league.
With the likes of Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella refusing to move on, Conte turned his attention to reclaiming the league crown. They did so in style, losing just once since the turn of the year (at Roma), but their Champions League match-up with Bayern Munich laid bare how far Juve still have to go to be competitive on the European stage.
Fernando Llorente is Juve-bound, but Conte is likely to want more
The total domination by the new Bundesliga champions was a bitter pill to swallow, even if BayernÃ¢ÂÂs subsequent humiliation of the great Barcelona eased the pain somewhat. JuveÃ¢ÂÂs 4-0 aggregate defeat brought to the surface the first signs of frustration which will lead the club to change direction in the transfer marker. Last summer, Juventus tried and failed to sign Robin Van Persie from Arsenal - come this summer, it will not be enough to chase just one star name.
Even as he was drying off and enjoying a well-earned glass of champagne, Conte was already looking to the future and what he hoped would be the arrival of least eight new faces Ã¢ÂÂ two or three of whom would have Champions League experience under their belt.
Of course, when it comes to offering the sort of salaries the top stars demand, Juventus cannot compete with the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs top sides, the likes of PSG and Bayern Munich, not to mention the Spanish giants.
However, retaining the title and producing a positive showing in the Champions League should be strong foundations to incite new signings.
Leading ConteÃ¢ÂÂs wanted listed are Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid, who would be a cheaper and a much younger alternative to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A quick look at the goalscoring statistics demonstrates why there is a need for a fresh frontman. Midfielder Arturo Vidal is currently the teamÃ¢ÂÂs top goalscorer in the league, with 10 goals. The man who was expected to lead the way, Mirko Vucinic, has only netted nine Ã¢ÂÂ the last of which was at the start of April.
With Fernando Llorente already signed as a targetman, Matri, Sebastian, Quagliarella, Anelka and Nicklas Bendtner can all pack their bags. Conte knows that he needs wide-men to deliver the crosses, so Manchester UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs Nani is also a target.
The defence needs little reinforcement for now, and the midfield remains solid. Andrea Pirlo looks set to end his international career after next summerÃ¢ÂÂs World Cup finals, to concentrate on his club commitments, while Vidal is considered untouchable. With Paul Pogba becoming a growing influence, if Juve are forced to sell a big name to raise funds, it could be Claudio Marchisio whoÃ¢ÂÂs on his way - especially if one of the Manchester clubs or Chelsea come calling.
Conte may have been a no-frills player, but as a coach he understands that talent at the highest level cannot be taught, and has therefore called on the club to spend big on Stevan Jovetic. The Montenegrin looks to have gone stale at Fiorentina, but is the sort skillful dribbler who can fill that gap between midfield and attack, while also chipping in with his fair share of goals.
The celebrations may still be fresh in the memory, but the plans are already in place for the future ahead of what looks like being a busy summer. Perhaps JuveÃ¢ÂÂs biggest signing will be tying Conte to a new, long-term deal, but they may need to prove they will provide him with a quality squad to keep the Old Lady at the top for many years to come.