After finishing seventh in each of the last two campaigns, Serie A giants Juventus are finally contending for the Scudetto. Still unbeaten this season with six league matches to play, the Bianconeri sit one point above reigning champions AC Milan. They remain on course for their first title in nine years, but such prominence comes as no surprise to former player Pavel Nedvěd. "[Antonio] Conte has brought back the fighting spirit of the old Juventus," he explained to UEFA.com.
Nedvěd, now 39, retired from football in 2009 after eight terms with Juventus and during his first spell as a member of the board of directors has had the chance to get to know Conte the coach, having previously spent three seasons playing alongside Conte the midfielder.
The ambitious trainer, who in 13 campaigns as a Juve player helped La Vecchia Signora win five league crowns, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup, took charge in the summer and has quickly set about bringing back the good times. "I see him working every day and I'm very happy Juventus chose him," said Nedvěd. "He is not just a good coach, he is top class.
"His experience as a Juventus footballer is crucial, as he knows what it means to play for Juve," he continued. "During my playing days here I understood why this team were always at the top, even when we were not the very best. It was the fighting spirit, the determination to never give up. Conte has brought back that approach and he is on exactly the right track with his work. Juve can finally begin a winning cycle with him."
Conte's grit has even earned the praise of opponents, with Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso among those to give credit to the 42-year-old tactician. "They are giving everything on and off the pitch," said Gattuso, no stranger to digging deep himself. "Conte seems like Al Pacino in that famous film [Any Given Sunday]: his team talks fired me up too. I heard one on TV and got up from the sofa and started running around."
Juventus boast the meanest defence in Serie A with only 18 goals conceded and in Andrea Pirlo have an experienced midfielder who has lost none of his creative powers. He has also not lost a Serie A game since 18 December 2010. When most needed the Bianconeri have also been able to call upon their talismanic forward, Alessandro Del Piero. Nedvěd's ex team-mate has weighed in with crucial goals despite struggling to find a regular place in Conte's side. His free-kick against S.S. Lazio on Wednesday, on his 700th Juventus appearance, sealed a 2-1 home victory that kept the Old Lady ahead of Milan at the summit.
"It's difficult to find words to describe Del Piero," Nedvěd said. "He has been playing for Juve for about 20 years – he is the history of this club. When anybody in the world says the word 'Juve', they have a picture of Del Piero in mind. I think that says it all.
"It was great to play alongside him," the former Czech international continued. "He is a great player. He has always trained hard and extremely seriously, otherwise he would never have achieved so much despite his great talent. As I said, he is the history of Juventus." A few more goals like the one against Lazio and the 37-year-old captain will have written yet another chapter in Bianconeri history.
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