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Conte Faces Juventus In First Derby D’Italia Of The Season

Back in July 2014, pre-season training was only a day old when Antonio Conte decided to quit Juventus.

Three successive Serie A titles had elevated him to Pope-like status in Turin among some sections of the fan-base having already been a club legend as a player, making more than 500 appearances, winning five league titles on the way.

One month later he was appointed manager of the Italian national team and for some ardent Juventus fans, the relationship was slowly straining. The divorce was not as amicable as he may have hoped.

The Telegraph reported at the time that upon returning to Turin for a game against England, Conte allegedly received death threats from fans angry at his rigorous training regime.

Claudio Marchisio was injured on international duty and was out for a period where Juventus badly needed him. The blame lay at Conte’s door – the first sign of how fierce criticism can be when you are not sat in the dugout in Turin.

‘I can’t just let some things slide as if they didn’t happen,’ he said in response, clearly irked by the extreme behaviour. ‘Some things stay. They wounded me.’

But provided he did not take the Inter Milan job his reputation, largely, would be secure. His status as one of the club’s all-time great coaches would not be under threat.

Only he did join Inter. He did cross the divide that some feel must never be crossed. And in the first Derby D’Italia of the 2019-20 season, he is fixated on derailing his old side’s bid for a ninth straight title – and strengthening his own title challenge over at the San Siro.

After all, it was Conte who started the club’s run to eight titles in a row; he would love nothing more than to rip up the foundations he laid back in 2011-12.

The move to Inter led some of Juventus’ ultras to call for Conte’s star in the Hall of Fame to be removed. In an instant, emotions heightened when it was announced he would return to Serie A with Inter. All of his achievements, depending on who you speak to, in Turin had conveniently been forgotten.

But those who worked under him refuse to believe he has turned his back on where he came from. Turned his back on the club where he was – and in some cases still is – adored.

‘What really did upset and hurt me was seeing some Juve fans calling for Conte’s star in the hall of fame to be removed after he joined Inter,’ Gianluigi Buffon admitted to Correire dello Sport earlier this season.

‘I feel that I am within the Juve world, I know the directors, players and fans well, so I know what Antonio gave to the club and what he represented. He squeezed out every last drop of sweat for Juve, giving all of himself.

‘As a player, he never held back for the good of the team. As a coach, he carried the squad on his back and dragged them to success with total clarity and never stopping for breath. In three packed seasons, he never once let his focus slip.’

That was a ringing endorsement by one of Juventus’ all-time great players but still there were those who felt betrayed.

Admittedly there are those who simply couldn’t care less; managers come and go and fans who spoke to Sportsmail were split on where they stand.

While one described it as ‘like George Graham going to Tottenham’ others merely played it down, keen to not let a former manager dictate the narrative for their club.

Rav Gopal, prominent Juventus blogger, summed it up when he said:

‘Some are bitter, some want him written out of the club’s history, some simply don’t care and some just want to humiliate him at Inter in the derby.’

It was not always like this, Juventus sweeping up all the major honours in Italy.

Inter fans of a certain age will remember the 1960s when they became an immovable force both domestically and in Europe and when the tide began to shift to their northern rivals in recent decades, the Derby D’Italia became arguably the fiercest fixture in Italy for both sets of fans.

Conte took charge of six derbies during his time managing the Old Lady – he never once lost at the San Siro, the venue of Sunday’s match.

In fact of the six matches he took charge of, he lost just once, winning four and drawing the other.

All that is now, though, is history. Conte wants to write his own and that starts on Sunday.

Inter haven’t won a home Derby D’Italia in Serie A for nine years – a sign of Juventus’ overwhelming dominance in this fixture.

But it is what is happening now that will concern the management, the players and the fans and it makes blissful reading for Inter. Six games, six wins, 13 goals scored and just two conceded.

Juventus are not quite Bambi on ice but still look uncertain on their feet as they adapt to the demands of Maurizio Sarri. A 0-0 stalemate away at Fiorentina showed they have work to do now they have a genuine rival in Conte’s Inter.

Simply put he is – perhaps alongside Carlo Ancelotti – the finest manager in the league and both clubs know it.

He’s won it all in Italy before and having been backed heavily over the summer to add Romelu Lukaku, Valentino Lazaro, Matteo Politano, Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi and Alexis Sanchez, Inter have a title-winning team again.

Their first big test comes on Sunday against Juventus and while the mood is not totally sour at Conte, win the game and lead Inter to a title, there could be a mutiny on his hands.

The man who built the house is ready to tear the whole thing down.