TURIN (Reuters) - Juventus, traditionally one of Europe’s biggest clubs, are back in the last eight of the Champions League but coach Antonio Conte does not want them seen in the same light as Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Conte has recognised that the 28-times Italian champions and twice European champions cannot compete financially with clubs from Spain, Italy or England, even if results on the field have been just as good, if not better.
Conte himself won a Champions League medal with Juventus during his 13-year playing career with them, and they also finished as runners-up three times while he was at the club.
Having bounced back after the Caliopoli match-fixing scandal, which saw them stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles and demoted to the second tier, Juventus now face a different reality on their return to the quarter-finals following a seven-year wait.
Twice European champions, five-times runners-up, Cup Winners Cup winners on one occasion and UEFA Cup champions three times, they no longer find themselves mentioned in the same breath as Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern.
“When I played, there were not so many well-structured clubs, and there were more opportunities for Italian teams to be successful,” Conte told reporters after Juve beat Celtic 2-0 on Wednesday to complete a 5-0 aggregate win in the last 16 tie.
”Now, for a variety of reasons, mainly financial, teams such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich are stronger.
”We must be humble, be aware that we can no longer bridge that economic gap. We are three of four steps below them but it doesn’t mean we can’t compete with them.
“At the end, it’s about two teams with 11 players, a pitch and a referee.”
Juventus are not Europe’s most stylish team but Conte, still in only his second season in charge, has turned them into a formidable outfit, who hassle the opposition incessantly in midfield and break forward at breakneck speed when they win possession.
Conte habitually fields a three-man defence and a five man midfield where the majestic Andrea Pirlo, whose role as a deep-lying playmaker makes him a rarity in modern football, pulls the strings.
Fleet-footed teenager Paul Pogba, who played alongside Pirlo on Wednesday, is showing every sign that he can eventually replace the 33-year-old.
Juventus are at their most dangerous when they break forward with raking diagonal passes from their midfield for any one of their speedy forwards to chase.
Combative Chilean Arturo Vidal is another key figure on the right of the midfield.
Conte always fields a two-man front line, rotating between any two of Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco, Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic.
With the talismanic Gianluigi Buffon in goal, their three-man defence has not conceded a goal in their last five European games and they have not been beaten in Europe in their last 18 outings.
“They have a great work ethic about them,” said admiring Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
”They don’t have the flamboyance of Barcelona but they work very for each other, they have great balance and they are always a threat going forward.
“I don’t see why Juventus can’t win it. They have been fantastically consistent, and at home here in Turin, it’s a fortress.”
Reporting by Brian Homewood. Editing by Patrick Johnston