(Reuters) - Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who last season complained that his club did not have the financial resources to compete with Europe’s elite, changed his tune after Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Real Madrid.
The 44-year-old said that money was not everything after his team more than held their own against the big-spending Spaniards and added that they could compete with the best - provided they could leap from the bottom of Group B to second place in their final two games.
The 100 million euros ($134.75 million) Real spent on Gareth Bale alone was three times more than Juve’s entire outlay of just over 31.7 million euros during the summer transfer window. Defender Angelo Ogbonno was Juve’s biggest purchase at around 13 million euros.
”The transfer dealings weren’t particularly evident,“ Conte told reporters. ”We showed that what happens on the pitch counts more than spending power.
“We came away from this game stronger and the team deserves a high rating,” he added.
”We played a perfect first half in terms of our organization, intensity and quality of play. It was inevitable the tempo would drop following the restart and when it happens against champions like Real’s you’re made to pay.
”However, there was a great desire to turn things around and I would have (Real goalkeeper) Iker Casillas down as the man-of-the-match.
“I liked our bold approach in taking the game to Real. Our Champions League journey needs to see us develop and today we’ve witnessed many situations we need to work on.”
Conte’s words were a complete contrast to a somewhat bitter rant which followed last season’s quarter-final elimination against Bayern Munich.
On that occasion, Conte said that Italian football wasted its time by talking about futile matters rather than real issues, and warned that it could be years before a Serie A team wins the Champions League again.
“Italian football is only worried about gossip and refereeing controversies,” he griped after his side’s 4-0 aggregate defeat to the eventual champions.
Throughout his two-and-a-half years in charge time, Conte has banged on about the team being in a rebuilding process following the match-fixing scandal which led them to be stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles and demoted to Serie B.
Conte has certainly resurrected Juventus since his arrival, leading them to successive Serie A titles in his first two full seasons in charge.
In contrast, Italy’s old lady employed six different coaches in the five years before he arrived and suffered the indignity of group stage elimination in the Europa League.
Despite Tuesday’s encouraging performance, Juventus were left bottom of Group B with three points although they are only one behind FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray - the two sides they face in their final two games.
”Now we’re duty bound to win against Copenhagen,“ said Conte. ”We’ve taken much less than we’ve deserved from this year’s Champions League, but we’re still in it and it’s now all in our hands.
“The most important thing is to play with the same intensity. If we were to get through the group stages, this team could hold its own, making up for any potential technical gap through organization and intensity.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston