Conte ban undermines Juventus title defence
No sooner had Juventus started to enjoy life back at the summit of Italian football than controversy brought them crashing back to earth yet again.
Juve were crowned Serie A champions in May after going through the entire season undefeated but their title preparations were rocked two weeks ago when coach Antonio Conte was handed a 10-month ban as part of a corruption probe.
Conte and his assistant Angelo Alessio, who has been banned for six months, were punished by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) for failing to disclose knowledge of match-fixing during their time at Siena in the 2010-11 season.
Conte has vowed to get the ban overturned and Juve have promised to give their former captain "full support", but his first appeal was rejected by an FIGC disciplinary panel on Wednesday.
Massimo Carrera, a member of Juve's technical staff, will deputise for Conte on match days but the deposed coach will still be allowed to attend training sessions and pick the team.
He will at least have centre-back Leonardo Bonucci and winger Simone Pepe at his disposal, after the two Italy internationals were cleared despite being investigated over the 'Calcioscommesse' betting scandal that saw Conte banned.
No strangers to controversy in recent years, Juventus were not directly implicated in Conte's case, but his involvement leaves another stain on the name of Italy's most widely supported club.
Last season's championship triumph bridged the nine-year gap since Juve's last Scudetto crown, after they were stripped of the league titles they won in 2005 and 2006 due to the 'Calciopoli' match-fixing affair.
It gave the Bianconeri a record 28th Serie A title, but the club's directors insisted that Juve deserved recognition for having won 30 championships on the pitch.
President Andrea Agnelli eventually relented in his bid to have a third star added to Juve's jersey -- one for each 10 titles won -- but next season's shirt will still bear the provocative slogan '30 on the pitch' below the club's emblem.
On the pitch, at least, Juve look well placed to defend the Scudetto.
They have added depth and variety to the squad that won the title, with Italy playmaker Sebastian Giovinco returning for a third stint in Turin after a fine season at Parma in which he scored 15 goals.
Other arrivals include Brazil centre-back Lucio from Inter Milan and former Udinese pair Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah, although Juve are still searching for the prolific striker they lacked last season.
Club talisman Alessandro Del Piero ended his 19-year-association with Juventus in the summer, while failed investments Milos Krasic and Eljero Elia have both been moved on, to Fenerbahce and Werder Bremen respectively.
Andrea Pirlo's glittering performances for runners-up Italy at Euro 2012, meanwhile, proved that he remains one of the world's foremost operators in the deep-lying midfield role that he has come to define.
With last season's runners-up AC Milan having overseen a spate of high-profile departures and Inter Milan in transition under rookie coach Andrea Stramaccioni, Juve appear to have a clear path to the title.
They already have one piece of silverware to their name this term, having overcome Napoli 4-2 after extra time in the Italian Super Cup in Beijing earlier this month to avenge their defeat in last season's Coppa Italia final.
Juve start their title defence at home to Parma on Saturday and although another unbeaten season is a tall order, they will be relieved to be able to turn their attention to the playing field once again.
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