MILAN — The man who started Juventus’ unprecedented era of dominance could end it this weekend.
Antonio Conte, a lifelong Juventus fan and former coach and player, could wrest the Serie A title from the nine-time defending Italian champions and bring it to Inter Milan.
Inter can win its first league title in more than a decade if it beats last-place Crotone on Saturday and second-place Atalanta fails to beat Sassuolo the following day.
“We’re 95% of the way towards the Scudetto,” said Conte, who led Juventus to the first three of its nine straight Serie A titles.
That was a significant admission in the often superstitious world of soccer, where title talk is mainly taboo until mathematically certain.
“I’m not superstitious,” Conte said. “I’ve been talking about the Scudetto ever since I arrived because I know there are certain expectations of me and a coach at my level can never be satisfied.
“However, it’s clear that you need to have a sense of proportion. At the beginning, I mentioned the figure of 1%. It was important to start from that small percentage and increase it while building something together.”
Conte arrived at Inter in 2019 and came close three times to ending Inter’s 10-year wait for a trophy in his first season in charge. The club finished a point behind Juventus in Serie A and lost the Europa League final to Sevilla. The Nerazzurri also lost in the Italian Cup semifinals to eventual champion Napoli.
“We’ve worked a lot in the past two years, not just from a soccer perspective,” Conte said. “We’ve really focused on the mental side of things because it’s been a very long time since Inter has been competitive.
“We had a good go last year reaching the Europa League final and finished second in the league, and we’re having another go this time.”
Coming so close hurt, and before this season started Inter players talked about using that pain to drive them to success.
“We lost a final and this galvanised us within,” Inter midfielder Nicolò Barella said. “Together with the coach and club, we transformed the experience into something positive. This year, we’re in the position we wanted to be in.”
Inter last won the league in 2010, under José Mourinho, along with the Champions League title and the Italian Cup. It retained the domestic cup the following year.
“We’re close to a very important objective,” Conte said. “The guys know that a certain attitude is required to win. Work, sacrifice and determination are all needed.
“You need to give up on many things … In the end, however, the players are able to understand that the path that has been taken is the right one and they have complete trust in the person who’s leading them.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports