How doubt eventually brought Ranieri and Leicester to their knees

Last year can be defined quite simply as a fairytale season for Leicester City who lifted their first ever English Premier League title. But this year has been anything but that. Hovering dangerously above the relegation zone thanks largely to some awful league performances, Leicester’s owners have been forced into making one of the hardest decisions of their seven year reign. Stick with the manager who delivered an unprecedented title or twist, sacking the manager in favour of a fresh pair of hands who might just be able to guide them to safety. In the end, they chose the latter and yesterday said arrivedechi to Ranieri. The Italian leaves the club as an icon and will always remain as such despite the happenings on the pitch this season. So what went so wrong for Ranieri?

From Champions to relegation candidates in less than seven months so what went so wrong for Ranieri? (image from Tumblr)

The departure of chief talent scout Steve Walsh to Everton in the summer was a key factor but in truth problems arose before that happened. Last year’s remarkable title win should have had a positive effect on the club but instead planted the seed of doubt in a management team that showed little doubt the year before. To be fair, things had fundamentally changed for Ranieri. He was ridiculed when appointed as manager in the summer of 2015 but rather than letting it get to him, he basked in the low expectations placed on him by the media and fans. Last year’s target was survival not the title after all. Even after his side put together an impressive run that saw them top the table at Christmas, many still expected and called for Leicesters eventual fall. As the weeks and months went on, still no tumble and Ranieri grew more and more confident. He had comfortably shaken off his media nickname of the Tinkerman by sticking with a winning team and formula for a majority of the season. His mantra of when its not broken don’t fix it paid off. The title quickly became theirs to lose and eventually they would reach the finishing line in style with games to spare.

Captain Wes Morgan lifts the clubs first ever Premier League title (Image from Tumblr)

But after the extended celebrations ended and all the champagne had been drunk, the realization that Leicesters world (and the expectations that came with that) had shifted. Leicester were now the English champions and with it drew pressure back on to Ranieri. Few believed that they would compete again for the title but a top six or eight position plus a run in Europe was expected. Ranieri began to have doubts. Was the team he assembled good enough to compete again on multiple fronts? Would the reliable formation of last year still work? Would they be able to replicate the form they found in abundance last season? Those doubts ate away at him all summer. And it’s that doubt that ended up leading to his dismissal.

Winning the title brought doubt back into Ranieri’s thinking (Image from Tumblr)

Over a busy summer, Ranieri added to his squad with several new faces at a hefty cost. Ahmed Musa became the clubs record signing before that was broken a few days later with the capture of Islam Slimani. He also handed lucrative new deals to his heros of last season and also persuaded star striker Jamie Vardy to knock back the advances of Arsenal in favour of staying with the club. On the outside everything looked set for a promising title defence. But the cracks that began to appear in the final months of last season were beginning to reappear. Was aging captain Wes Morgan able to compete again at the highest level? Did Marhez and Vardy have their heads turned by potential summer moves? How would they cope with losing Kante to Chelsea?

N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea left a huge hole in the Leicester City team (Image from Tumblr)

The latter was key as the diminutive midfielder had played a key role in their surge to the title. But he was just one of eleven in that team so replacing, although difficult should have been an achievable task. His replacement, Nampayls Mendy has not quite worked out mostly because the Leicester side have been unable to work out how to play without Kante in the team. This is primarily due to Ranieri reverting back to his old self and tinkering with the team formation – one week with three at the back, the next with a diamond in the middle. Confusion amongst the ranks has led to mistakes which cost Leicester dearly in too many games during this campaign. Doubt made Ranieri tinker with his winning formula and experiment mid season. His early season faith in his title winning side was a mistake and the decision to focus on the Champions League (with the belief that his side would rebound in the league after qualifying) a bigger one. Having achieved progression from the Champions League group stage by the end of November, Ranieri must have believed that his side would transform their European form into domestic form but that never materialized. Key defeats in December to Sunderland and Bournemouth and in January to Chelsea, Southampton and Burnley sent the reigning Champions spiralling down the table. In addition, a resurgence in form by the teams below them, most notably Hull and Swansea under new management must have given Leicesters board pause for thought but could they do the unthinkable?

Doubt brought back the return of The Tinkerman (Image from Tumblr)

In the end they could and had to. Football is very much a business nowadays and with it comes responsibility to protect that business when faced with significant financial implications. Dropping to the Championship may not have been the worse thing in the world for Leicester from a footballing prospective but the financial impact of not being in the Premier League would have been. Unfortunately despite all that he had achieved in one remarkable season, Ranieri had to go. Was it the right thing to do morally? No. Ranieri achieved the impossible last year so deserved to stay but to the owners sentimentality could play no part in their final decision.

Could Roberto Mancini be set to replace Ranieri at Leicester City? (Image from Tumblr)

Ranieri’s replacement will be appointed swiftly with a clear mandate of remaining in the Premier League. Further progression in the Champions League would be a bonus and with an away goal scored against Seville in their 2-1 first leg defeat that is still possible. But staying up is the most important thing for the club now. For Ranieri he will take time to reflect before making his next move. He will ponder what went so wrong and what he could have done to change things. Doubt about his abilities may also creep back in but for a coach who is now classified as a title winning one his stock has risen dramatically across Europe. Ranieri will be back in management before long but the big question will remain – will he be able to subdue his doubt and resist the temptation to once again become the Tinkerman.

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Vardy Run Continues But Hodgson Is Less Than Impressed

As far as zero to hero stories goes, Jamie Vardy’s takes the cake. The Leicester forward’s rags to riches story is remarkable given how far he has come in such a short space of time. Eight years ago, Vardy was playing non league football for Stocksbridge Park Steels F.C after being released by Sheffield Wednesday as  youngster. For many, being released by a football league club at such a young age would destroy your confidence but not for Vardy who used the experience as a learning curve. He knuckled down and trained hard with Stocksbridge which paid off with 66 goals in 107 appearances. That mentality and dedication has been the continuous theme in Vardy’s rise from non league to Premier League star. A constant performer, Vardy has risen through the ranks first moving to Halifax then on to Fleetwood before signing for Leicester in 2012. Now a regular for the Foxes and scoring for fun, Vardy is knocking on Roy Hodgson’s door so loudly that it is proving hard for the England manager to ignore him.

Vardy during his Stocksbridge days (Image from PA)

Vardy during his Stocksbridge days (Image from PA)

It was last season when Vardy first came to the England manager’s attention with some fine performances for Leicester under Nigel Pearson as they turned around a miserable start that saw them rooted to the bottom of the table at Christmas to securing  a mid table finish by the end of the season. Despite only scoring five times that season, it was Vardy’s overall contribution to the teams efforts and his non stop running that won him many plaudits. When Pearson was replaced in the summer by Italian Claudio Ranieri, many pundits believed that Leicester would struggle and eventually be relegated. However the Foxes have been in stunning form and currently sit 3rd in the Premier League with 25 points from 12 games. Key to their success has been Vardy who has scored in nine consecutive Leicester games and is now chasing Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of ten goals for Manchester United. His exploits have spawned praise from far and wide and has included some remarkable comparisons to some of the games greatest strikers including Argentine goal scoring legend Gabriel Batistuta.

Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta (Image from Getty)

Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta
(Image from Getty)

The comparison to Batistuta is complementary but somewhat in jest. Vardy’s form for Leicester this season (and arguably last) has been impressive and deserves the praise he is collecting. But his manager’s remarks after the game were directed more towards answering the question asked than making comparisons. The question posed to Ranieri was when was the last time that he saw a player score on such a frequent basis. His answer was Gabriel Batistuta’s eleven goal run for Fiorentina back in the 1994-1995 season. Ranieri, who managed the Viola from 1993 to 1997 was hardly saying that Vardy reminded him of Batistuta but instead remarking on his incredible goal scoring run which was similar to that of Batigol’s ten years earlier. Batistuta is one of the world’s greatest strikers to have played the game scoring over 300 goals in just over 500 appearances for club and country during a 17 year playing career. At 29 years old, Vardy is quite a long way behind Batistuta’s exploits with only 163 goals in just under 300 appearances (most of which were non league) and has yet to score for his country in four tries.

Scoring for England is the next goal for Vardy who deservedly should be called up for England’s next few friendly matches. With Rooney short of form, Sturridge permanently injured and Theo Walcott more comfortable on the wing, Hodgson has a shortage of recognizable front men. With qualification to Euro 2016 already secured, the friendlies between now and next summer will be crucial for Hodgson to judge who should make his 23 man squad. Rooney, despite bad form will be there regardless as will Tottenham’s Harry Kane but the other striker positions are still up for debate. Vardy is keen to impress and show Hodgson what he can do but he needs playing time to do so. Whilst happy to include him in recent squads, it would appear as though Hodgson sees Vardy’s role with the team as being a wide player rather than the one that has seen him be so deadly in front of goal for Leicester, the traditional number nine role. In a recent press conference, Hodgson appeared to blast Vardy by saying that Vardy will play in whatever position that he dictates and that the player should just be grateful to be included.

Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy (Image from AFP)

Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy
(Image from AFP)

This remarkable outburst was unprompted as Vardy had not made any statement or remark to the media about his unhappiness to play out wide. Hodgson’s reluctance may get the better of him if England find themselves a goal behind with twenty minutes left in a crucial group game in France next summer. As he glances along that bench for a player in search of a player would can run like a man possessed and create chances from nothing, will he regret not giving Vardy a shot and a chance to impress in advance of the tournament beginning. Lets see.

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The Uninspiring Italian Hired As Leicester Boss

Claudio Ranieri's appointment was so uninspiring that they even announce his hiring with him sitting down  (Image from Getty)Former England striker Gary Lineker is never short of an opinion about anything these days. The BT Sport host uses the marvels of social media and his uncanny ability to be wherever a TV camera or radio mic happens to be when something occurs in football. He has become the medias go to man for comments, one liners and headline grabbers. So when Leicester City, one of Linekers former clubs announced the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as their new manager, there was only ever going to be one man who the media called. And once again Lineker delivered calling the well-travelled Italian “an uninspiring choice” and an indication of a growing problem in football which sees the same group of old tired managers clambering for all managerial appointments that become available. For once he may have a point but we hesitate to admit that just in case it goes to Linekers already swollen head.

Always with an opinion - Gary Lineker  (Image from AFP)

Always with an opinion – Gary Lineker
(Image from AFP)

After the sacking of the ostrich quoting former manager Nigel Pearson, speculation over who would take over the foxes went into overdrive with the British press and football gossip blogs wetting the bed in excitement. They threw the usual set of candidates into the mix:  a former player (Neil Lennon), a former manager (Martin O’Neill), a current player with no managerial experience (Esteban Cambiasso) and a well-traveled British steward of the managerial game (Sam Alladyce). They even did some back of a napkin math figuring out that Guus Hiddink’s departure from the Dutch national team meant only one thing; that he was bound for Leicester. There was no way that Hiddink’s failure in recent months to inspire the Dutch to qualification wins had anything to do with it nor his intention to step away from the game the moment he left the Holland job. Including Hiddink’s name gave the media what they wanted – a name to play on, a big star who would excite the foxes fans enough that they part with their hard-earned cash in order to buy their newspaper for the exclusive details behind his imminent arrival.

One for the fans - Guus Hiddink  (Image from PA)

One for the fans – Guus Hiddink
(Image from PA)

But in the end the Leicester board pulled a fast one, appointing “a highly respected coach with both club and international experience”. The well-traveled Italian has managed primarily in Italy (Cagliari, Napoli, Fiorentina, Juventus, Parma, Roma and Inter) and Spain (Atletico Madrid, Valencia twice) as well as stints as boss of Chelsea, Monaco and Greece along the way. The perfect fit for Leicester it would seem apart from a few minor details. Firstly Ranieri’s success at the various clubs he has been limited to say the least and his international experience is less than impressive having been sacked by Greece after failing to win a single game. At club level, the last trophy Ranieri picked up was the French Ligue 2 title with Monaco back in 2012 which was his first trophy since 2004. Managers should be judged on their success and for Ranieri the judges are still very much in debate chamber. He has won 9 trophies in a 27 year managerial career but most are lower league titles: 1 each from the Italian Serie B and C leagues and that French Ligue 2 crown with Monaco. He did find some success early on in his career at Fiorentina and Valencia (during his first stint in charge) securing the Copa and Supercopa Italia titles and the Copa Del Rey, Intertoto Cup and Super Cup respectively. But apart from this, Ranieri has fallen short on a too frequent basis.

Monaco under Ranieri seal the Ligue 2 title (Image from Getty)

Monaco under Ranieri seal the Ligue 2 title
(Image from Getty)

His success at Monaco was expected given that the team was funded by a billionaire and had a squad that was earning ten times what their nearest league rivals were making.  It’s a familiarly story throughout Ranieri’s managerial career with the Italian lucky on more than one occasion; inheriting a good squad but failing to move it forward. His time at Chelsea for instance coincided with a change in their financial fortunes with Roman Abramovich rolling into town, bulging suitcases of money firmly under both arms. After failing to impress the Russian, he left to re-join the then reigning La Liga and UEFA Cup champions Valencia but couldn’t inspire his talented side to perform and was sacked eight months later. Spells at Juventus, Roma and Inter Milan followed, all of which had strong enough squads to challenge but in typical Ranieri style, he fell short on all three occasions. Escaping to the south of France was supposed to repair Ranieri’s damaged reputation and things looked good for the Italian as he guided them back to Ligue 1. But the jump appeared to be too hard to cope with and again Ranieri was sacked after failing to make the grade.

Ranieri has failed to win anything since 2012  (Image from PA)

Ranieri has failed to win anything since 2012
(Image from PA)

Then came a switch to national football with the surprise appointment to the Greek national team managers position. Greece were on a high after reaching the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup, narrowly missing out on a quarter-final spot thanks to an agonizing penalty shoot out defeat to Costa Rica. Ranieri’s arrival heralded a different approach and one that the Greeks believed would take them to the next level by sailing through qualification for Euro 2016 but instead the country slid backwards. His strange tactical alterations and lack of ability to speak the language lead to confusion among the players who looked like an amateur team in an already weak qualification group. Defeats to Romania, Northern Ireland and the lowly Faroe Islands was enough to end Greece’s hopes of qualifying and with it led to his sacking for which Hellenic Football Federation’s president, Giorgos Sarris publicly apologized for his “unfortunate selection of manager”.

Confusion reigned during Ranieri's spell in charge of Greece  (Image from Getty)

Confusion reigned during Ranieri’s spell in charge of Greece
(Image from Getty)

Ranieri’s reputation is in tatters which makes his appointment at Leicester so baffling. Leicester’s survival last year was down to consistency under Pearson who found a tactic and team mid way through the season that worked and stuck with it. That resulted in the most dramatic of turnarounds which saw Leicester fly up the table to safety. But now in his place the board has hired a man known ironically as the Tinkerman due to his constant need to alter tactics and team selection making consistency almost impossible. Hardly what Leicester needs going into the new season. Ranieri is dramatically different from Pearson which is maybe why the board selected him. He is quiet, reserved and polite unlike Pearson who made a name for himself last year with his brash, bully like approach. Quite simply he is vanilla, plain and simple which by itself is very uninspiring so perhaps Lineker was right after all.

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Europe’s Minnows Finally Turn Up To The Party

Europe's minnows finally stepping up? (Image from Getty)It’s been an interesting start to the 2016 European Championships qualification campaign with a series of surprising results so far. In the earlier match weeks Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Iceland showed non believers that spirit and determination sometimes can overcome experience and skill as they set about securing a handful of points in the race for qualification. Meanwhile the so called European heavyweights appeared to be sluggish out of the gate with Holland, Spain and Greece all failing to dispatch teams ranked much further down the FIFA official rankings. Whilst the Dutch and the Spanish have rebounded in spectacular fashion, Greece stuttering start to the campaign under new coach Claudio Ranieri came to an abrupt halt this past weekend when the lowly Faroe Islands arrived in Athens and left with their heads held high and three vital points in the bag. Joan Edmundsson’s 61st minute miss hit shot was enough to condemn the Greeks to bottom place in group F and to give the Greek FA enough leverage to finally dispatch Ranieri.

Joan Edmundsson celebrates his goal against Greece  (Image from AFP)

Joan Edmundsson celebrates his goal against Greece
(Image from AFP)

To be fair, the Faroes result was a shock but not as much as San Marino’s point against Estonia. The enclave microstate has not managed to secure a single point in their last 61 international games so ending that run meant more to them that winning itself. For a while it looked like the match would follow the usual storyboard with Estonia pressing from the off. But the resilient San Marino side held on to the end, securing a valuable point and ending that horrific losing run. The last game the San Marino actual won was in a friendly back in April 2004 against fellow strugglers Liechtenstein who have had their fair share of defeats as well since then. But recent results including a 0-0 draw against Montenegro in October followed by Saturday’s stunning 1-0 victory over Moldova have given Rene Pauritsch’s side much need optimism for the future. Liechtenstein now find themselves in a strange position, three points ahead of Moldova in fifth place with the former Soviet state rooted to the bottom of the table. It’s the same position that Malta now finds themselves in after their 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Sofia this past weekend. The tiny Mediterranean island used to be the whipping boys of European football but in the past few years have started to show a more formidable side to their play, carving out friendly wins against the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Luxembourg whilst holding Northern Ireland to a draw. However in international competition the team still lacks that killer instinct showing only flashes in recent years, especially in the 1-0 win over Armenia in June of last year. Sunday’s match in Sofia started much like most of the others, with Malta going behind after only 6 minutes to a bundled in goal by Andrey Galabinov but fought back well to earn a point from the penalty spot converted by left back Clayton Failla.

Failla converts the penalty that gives Malta a point against Bulgaria  (Image from PA)

Failla converts the penalty that gives Malta a point against Bulgaria
(Image from PA)

When the idea of changing the qualification criteria for this upcoming European Championships was floated, it was met with a tidal wave of negative responses from critics citing that it would not make for interesting viewing nor makes it easier as UEFA President Michel Platini suggested for smaller European nations to qualify. Platini ignored the objections and pushed ahead with his master plan to rejuvenate what has becoming a stale second tier tournament behind its much more glamorous cousin, the World Cup. But after four matches which has shown that the qualification process is far from pre determined and is in fact wide open, Platini will surely now be sitting back with a large grin across his face. All nine groups are very much still in play with a variety of nations who have struggled to qualify in the past like Wales, Iceland, Scotland and Cyprus all in good positions. There is still a long journey ahead before reaching France but if qualifying continues to throw up these startling results, it may not be impossible to believe that the tournament will see not just one but several new faces taking part.

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World Cup Hangover Hands Hope To Europe’s Smaller Nations

Three games played and maximum points obtained for Northern Ireland and Iceland has placed them in a good position in their quest to end their respective hiatuses from international competitions. Having never qualified for the European Championships and possessing only limited exposure at World Cups (Northern Ireland have qualified three times – 1958, 1982 and 1986 whilst Iceland have never made it) both nations are desperate to qualify for France 2016. The startling improvements in both sides over recent years have given hope to their legions of fans who are praying that this is the time that they will make it. Having suffered heartbreak during the last World Cup qualifying campaign by narrowly missing out thanks to a playoff defeat by Croatia, Iceland have once again stepped up and are showcasing  the talents of what many are describing as a new golden generation. Convincing wins over Turkey and Latvia were swiftly followed by a shock 2-0 win over Holland on Monday past that has left Lars Lagerbeck’s side top of Group A, level on points with the Czech Republic. To suggest Holland were off the pace would be accurate with their World Cup heroic’s still heavy on their legs but credit must be given to Iceland who battled hard and created several good chances throughout the game and deserved the points. Whilst Holland licks their wounds under new coach Guus Hiddink, Iceland can prepare for their next game against the Czech’s safe in the knowledge that significant progress has been made in their bid to qualify for France.

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland (Image from Getty)

Iceland continue to show improvements with a well fought 2-0 win over Holland
(Image from Getty)

In Group F, Northern Ireland gave their chances a dramatic boost with three stunning wins over the Faroe Islands, Hungary and Greece putting them top of the pile. Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty has been in exceptional form scoring in all three games but it’s at the back that Northern Ireland have looked so impressive. Roy Carroll has rolled back the years with a series of fine performances in goal whilst Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have marshaled the defense against some top opposition. In the last game against Greece in particular, the Northern Irish backline stifled attack after attack by the Greeks who like Holland have failed to spark under a new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The group is far from over for Northern Ireland with a long way still to go including tough matches against Finland, Romania and Greece to come but manager Michael O’Neill will take much optimism from the performances of his team in their opening few games which has left his side with a strong chance of qualification.

Lafferty sinks Greece (Image from Getty)

Lafferty sinks Greece
(Image from Getty)

The World Cup hangover appears to have affected several of Europe’s top nations including its current world champions. Having gone all the way in Brazil, Germany looked odds on favourites to top their group and progress to the European Championships in France for a shot at winning an historic double. But it would appear that the hangover from the party following their World Cup win has not yet subsided after three below par performances. One win, a draw and a shock defeat to Poland has Joachim Low’s team lying in third place in the group on four points with it all to do. After the retirement of the influential defensive pair of Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, Germany have looked less than convincing at the back. Manager Joachim Low has drafted in several potential solutions but none look as convincing as the exiting duo. Germany’s problems are not just limited to the back either with issues upfront as well. With Miroslav Klose finally calling time on his international career and an injury to Chelsea’s Andreas Schurrle, the World champions have struggled to convert the simplest of chances in their last three games. In total Germany created 35 chances in their opening group games against Scotland, Poland and Republic of Ireland converting only three of them. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Max Kruse has been identified as the successor to Klose’s crown but has yet to replicate his goal scoring club form on the international stage.

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany (Image from PA)

Kruse has yet to replicate his club form for Germany
(Image from PA)

Scotland’s chances of reaching their first international tournament in over 16 years stayed on track with a well fought 2-2 draw with Poland. After losing to Germany in game one and then beating Georgia at Ibrox on Saturday by a single goal, Gordon Strachan’s team travelled to Warsaw to face a buoyant Poland, who had surprised many with their 2-0 win over Germany. The game was ninety minutes full of end to end action with neither team willing to walk away with nothing. In the end a draw was a fair result and leaves both teams in contention for qualification. Next up for Strachan and Scotland is a home match against Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland with both managers knowing that only three points will do in what is becoming an increasingly open group. Having held Germany to a 1-1 draw in their last match (thanks to a 94th minute equalizer by John O’Shea), the Republic travel to Glasgow next month with seven points from a possible nine. After collecting maximum points against Georgia and Gibraltar in the first two matches, the hard fought point against an arguably tougher foe in Germany will give the Republic of Ireland belief that they can beat Scotland in their own back yard. With all time leading goal scorer Robbie Keane back firing at all cylinders, the Scots will need to be cautious next month if they are to gain any points.

John O'Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany (Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

John O’Shea scores a last minute equalizer against Germany
(Image from BPI/Kieran McManus)

Wales too are playing a cautious game after an impressive start to their qualifying campaign. Wins over Andorra and Cyprus plus a 0-0 draw with Bosnia has put Wales top of the group but with a series of difficult matches ahead against Belgium and Israel, Wales are taking nothing for granted. Led by the talents of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, this youthful looking Welsh side hold strong belief that they can reach France 2016 and end the welsh fans misery. Having only ever reached one World Cup (1958) and one European Championship (1976), the welsh fans have been starved of competitive international tournaments for too long and are now looking towards manager Chris Coleman and his new batch of players to correct this problem. Hope is high in the welsh valleys but like the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Scotland there is still a long way to go.

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Conte Returns To His Old Lady After Ban

Antonio Conte’s season begins today as he finally can take his place again in the Juventus dugout as he concludes his four-month ban for match fixing. Originally given a ten month ban, his sentence was reduced by the National Court of Arbitration for Sport in early October, much to the delight of Conte who had already served two months by that point. Conte was found guilty of match fixing during the summer after Filippo Carobbio accused Conte, then manager of Siena which included Carobbio, that the result in a fixture against Novaro had been pre-arranged. A similar accusation was flaunted following another game between Siena and AlbinoLeffe which ultimately led to the Juventus manager to be found guilty. Conte continued to plead innocent to all charges and stating that the evidence given was of poor quality and lacked credibility.

Antonio Conte is led into court to face the charges for match fixing

Antonio Conte is led into court to face the charges for match fixing

Conte, a former favourite of the Juventus fans because of his 13 years spent as a player and captain at the club, returned to The Old Lady as head coach in May 2011 following the departure of Luigi Delneri. The former italian internationalist concluded his playing career in 2004 and immediately look towards staying in football through coaching. He began as assistant manager at Siena to Luigi De Canio at the start of the 2005-2006 season, before eventually moving on to full management with Serie B side Arezzo in the summer of 2006. He lasted only 5 months before being sacked but bizarrely returned to the Arezzo managers seat 5 months later after the manager brought in to replace Conte performed worse than Conte had during his time. Conte did perform better in his second spell but was powerless in preventing Arezzo from being relegated that year.

Captain Conte during his playing days

Captain Conte during his playing days

After leaving the now Serie C team, Bari became the next port of call for Antonio. His luck and managerial skills began to show and within two years, he had turned Bari from relegation candidates in Serie B to champions and gained promotion to Italy’s top league. It was in this summer, in 2009, that Conte was first linked with Juventus. As a club legend, Conte was the people’s choice following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri by Juventus instead turned to another former player and legend, centre back Ciro Ferrara. Conte was disappointed but knew that some day he would have the job so started to look at other options after agreeing a mutual termination with Bari of his contract. Atalanta was his next stop but problems between himself and the organized ultras of the club around the way the club was managed forced Conte to step down in January 2010. His stock had risen in Italian football by this point and it wasn’t long until Siena, the club he was assistant manager at, came in for his services again. He took full control on May 2010 and immediately led them that season to promotion from Serie B back into the top flight.

After a year at Siena, Juventus came calling and it was a call that Conte couldn’t ignore any longer. His former club had suffered badly in the previous years which included a match fixing scandal of their own which they ultimately lost and saw them relegated to Serie B and stripped of the two titles they had won in 2005 and 2006 under then manager Fabio Capello. Now back in Serie A,  Conte knew that he needed to restore pride in the club once more and deliver a title to his beloved club. Juventus, the most succesful club in italian footballing history had been stripped of its titles but also its dignity during the scandal and had fought for the past 5 years to reclaim their top spot again in Italy’s top league. Other managers had come and gone and been unable to win the title but Conte delivered, winning Juventus’s first title since 2003 (2006 if you include the titles taken away). Remarkably he managed Juventus to an unbeaten season, quite a feat in the professional game. With the title came Champions league football again to the delight of Conte and the Juve fans.

Juventus lift the title in 2012

Juventus lift the title in 2012

That was until the match fixing scandal broke and their manager was suddenly at the heart of it. Conte returns today to the hot seat and takes charge of Juventus once more and he will be pleased at what he sees. Top of Serie A after 15 games ( the unbeaten record has been ended y two defeats), still in both domestic cups and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League, Juventus are on a roll. Conte knows that with the ban now behind him, he can focus once again on his beloved club. Juventus may well have just made their most important signing of the year without even knowing it. The master has returned and he is fired up, ready to go and once again stamp Juventus’s name across every trophy he can find.