What next for Juventus coach Antonio Conte after title triumph?

 

As the Giro d'Italia began this weekend with Mark Cavendish winning the first stage and then Bradley Wiggins's Team Sky taking the team time trial in their pursuit of the pink jersey, another long race came to an end when Juventus overcame Palermo to retain their Serie A title.

A second-half penalty from midfielder Arturo Vidal, Juve's top scorer in the league and their best player this season, was enough to finish off their relegation-threatened opponents and start a party that wasn't even to be ruined by former Manchester United Paul Pogba's harsh-looking red card for a presumed spit at Palermo defender Salvatore Aronica.

When referee Andrea Romeo blew the full-time whistle, Juventus coach Antonio Conte raised his hands in triumph, embraced his coaching staff, and then picked up his daughter, the aptly named Vittoria, before walking out onto the pitch.

A huge Italian tricolour with the number 31 - the number of league titles the Turin-based side claim to have won despite two of them (2005 and 2006) being revoked after the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal - was unfurled in the centre-circle.

Juventus fans unfurled a massive banner marking their latest title

Juventus fans unfurled a massive banner after the Palermo game, marking their latest title

It was a poignant moment for Conte.

Palermo were the team against whom he had marked his return earlier in the season from a suspension he strongly disputed for supposedly failing to report match-fixing while in his previous job at Siena.

Banned from the touchline for four months, it was the hardest time of his life.

By reclaiming the title in spite of all that and in front of these opponents he'd come full circle.

The date, 5 May, was significant too.

Eleven years ago to the day, Conte was the captain of a Juventus team including current goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved, who now sits on the club's board, that won the Scudetto on the final day of the season despite being six points behind Inter Milan with five games remaining.

This, it must be said, wasn't quite as dramatic as then. The biggest shock was seeing Conte, stripped to his Y-fronts, thrown into an ice bath as his players popped the prosecco in the dressing room after they'd been forced off the pitch by invading supporters, who tore out fistfuls of turf and cut down the goal nets as mementos.

An open-top bus was readied to take the team from Corso Cairoli to Piazza Solferino to celebrate with those who hadn't been able to get a ticket at the sold-out Juventus Stadium. Fans of Torino, who earlier in the day had seen a Mario Balotelli goal consign their team to defeat at AC Milan, raising fears of relegation, were in for a long night.

And yet they have to admit, even if it is through gritted teeth, that their rivals once again deserve their title.

Unbeaten in the league last season, Juventus led from start to finish in this, and although they suffered four defeats, they are only a point behind the total they achieved a year ago with three games remaining.

Were they to win all of them they'd even break the club record set by Fabio Capello's team in 2006 before the Calciopoli tribunal intervened.

Conte on his own future

"Antonio Conte the man wants to stay 100%. Then there's the professional who, as usually happens at the end of the season, needs to sit down and speak, out of respect for the fans, for the club, for the players."

Juventus, you feel, have taken another step forward. If last season's Scudetto still had a vestige of the past in the form of Alessandro Del Piero, who bid an emotional farewell at the end of it, this one gave a glimpse into the future as 20-year-old Pogba emerged, persuading Conte with his precocious performances to adapt his system so that there's a starting place for the Frenchman within it.

Which other faces and how many will be added to the squad this summer is already the source of great discussion. A deal for Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente to join in June was agreed last January. He'll arrive on a free like Pirlo and Pogba did before him, another coup at no cost - at least in transfer fees.

Conte is keen to gain a "clear idea" of the club's intentions. He has expressed his wish for a meeting this week to go over them.

"Antonio Conte the man," he said, "wants to stay 100%. Then there's the professional who, as usually happens at the end of the season, needs to sit down and speak, out of respect for the fans, for the club, for the players."

Linked with the prospective vacancies at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, a number of Italy's sports papers have wondered whether there's a chance Conte, who signed a new contract until 2015 only last summer, may leave Turin.

A more nuanced interpretation of his comments would be that he is reminding Juventus that winning the Scudetto isn't enough. It was once, but it isn't anymore.

When Juventus appointed Conte, they supposedly had a five-year plan. In years one and two, the foundations were to be laid in order to make a team - which finished seventh in each of the previous two seasons - title contenders again.

By year three it was hoped that they'd be in a position to win it and, if they did so, further investment would come in the summer of 2014.

Juventus, however, are well ahead of schedule.

Conte won the Scudetto in his first season and has reclaimed it in his second. Should it follow, then, that their plans need to be brought forward and the money needs to be splashed this summer? Presumably that's Conte's inference.

Juventus can't allow themselves to be satisfied with the league. They must show themselves willing to strengthen in such a way as to make themselves more competitive in the Champions League and go further than the quarter-finals where they were knocked out this season, to no disgrace, by a formidable Bayern Munich.

"We've never left anything to chance, but the bar is being raised," Conte said.

The club is confident they can match his ambition. "Conte is staying at Juve," general manager Beppe Marotta insisted.

"I'll hold my hand over fire. Like us he wants to win. We've created a model that means investing shrewdly. We want to continue this trend.

"We wanted victory in two to three years and it arrived early. In Europe there's still a gap to close. Bayern are unreachable at the moment, but we'll try with Conte who's the leader of this group."

For now, though, the planning can wait. There's a title celebration to savour.