When Antonio Conte was appointed coach at Juventus following yet another season of disappointment for the Old Lady, one word was repeated over and over again. Fans and media alike were convinced that even if Conte was not the most experienced of tacticians, he would at least reinstall into the team the fighting spirit that has been so sorely lacking in recent times. He would bring back the grinta.
Ah… If ever there was a word synonymous with Juve (apart from’winning’, in the original, non-Charlie Sheenian sense) it is this. As I assume most Juventini will be aware, grinta means grit, tenacity, hard work, focus, dedication etc., and has been the core value of Juventus for as long as I (and, quite possibly, everyone living) can remember.
This mentality – the never-say-die attitude – is the reason other teams feared Juve in the past. It’s the spirit that we’ve seen only in glimpses for the last couple of seasons. Last season’s games against Milan (away) and Inter (both) spring to mind. The trouble is of course that those games were clearly exceptions, whereas they used to be the rule. The grinta used to be present against all teams. As resilience when facing strong teams. Or as an insurmountable rampart when facing minnows trying to penetrate our armour.
As a player at Juve, Conte was himself very much an exponent of this mentality, carrying the torch of earlier generations. Along with players like Deschamps, Tacchinardi, Di Livio etc., he embodied a spirit of fight and sacrifice that was transmitted to his teammates – by example alone, or sometimes more directly via a well-placed bollocking.
Everyone with an interest in the well being of the club now hopes that he will be able to do the same with the current squad – not least the man himself. For it has been dire times for the (in)famous Juve grinta of late…
Juventus, in recent years, has gone from being the dreaded team who had the psychological edge in practically every game, and for whom giving up a lead was almost unthinkable, to a side against which the opposition would very much fancy their chances right until the final whistle – even if trailing by two goals.
For want of better analogies, Juventus went from being the tough, storied veteran with an aura of class and entitlement about him, to being a talented but insecure recruit with low self-esteem. And this to such a degree that ‘fragility’, a word not often associated with the club, became an unwelcome but defining term when describing the performances of Juve.
Now, Conte is hellbent on changing this. The flashes of grinta shown only against the big teams in the recent history of the club are to be reinstalled as a steady trademark of Juve matches once again. No more mental frailty, no more panic after goals conceded (or indeed, goals scored) – in short; no more B.S. The new Mister clearly aims at bringing the steel back into a team that has very much looked like a colossus with feet of clay of late.
I for one am quite sure Conte will succeed in reviving the grinta. I am confident that every player in the squad (come August 28th) will be willing to give his all for the club legend with the piercing eyes. He has proven his ability to ignite the fire in his players at Bari and Siena, and at Juve he should have no problems relating to the environment or the history of the club (and yes, I believe he’s better prepared for the job than Ferrara was).
There are, however, a few things that worry me ahead of the 2011-12 campaign. One is the tactical aspect, and for an extensive look on that topic please refer to Aaron’s piece right here on JuventiKnows (although my gut tells me Conte, like Del Neri, will quickly adjust to the player material at hand only with better options).
Another is the very flux of players in and out of the club – regardless of their skill and positions. For while I do believe that a strong mentality is absolutely key to any kind of success on the pitch, it is not the only component needed.
One basic but often overlooked feature of building a winning team is continuity. And continuity is not just about formations (an area in which Conte and Del Neri are somewhat similar). It is also about those men in shorts filling in the x’s on the chalkboard. And – without passing judgment on the transfer market yet – it seems certain that a lot of new faces will appear in our starting XI this season.
Not that I’m opposed to change, mind you. Last season clearly showed us that at least three positions needed strengthening. Big time. However, I fear that the rather massive changes taking place at the moment might be too far-reaching. As we know from painful experience, a team of fresh faces needs to gel. Which takes time. And could show in the table. Let’s say around Christmas, when we hit the (by now obligatory) Winter Crisis…
On the other hand, this is exactly where the mentality instilled by Conte will hopefully kick in and show its real worth. After all, mentality, in my view at least, has been the reason for the majority of the poor results in recent years (along with our full-backs acting like the aforementioned feet of clay – a problem seemingly solved, or, at the very least, corrected now). And though grinta will not cut it alone, I am fairly convinced that we will see a Juve worthy of our shiny new stadium this coming season.