'It's football, not war,' says Conte as tensions mount ahead of Derby d'Italia

AFP , Saturday 5 Oct 2019

Inter Milan's Italian coach Antonio Conte gestures during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between Barcelona and Inter Milan at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on October 2, 2019 AP

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte blasted "stupid and ignorant people" who were whipping up tensions ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia, his first game against former club Juventus.

"This is sport, not war. Sometimes people forget that," said Conte, who led Juventus to the first three of their current run of eight Serie A titles.

For Conte it will be his first match against Juventus since he left in 2014 to take over as Italy coach.

Inter are on a perfect run of six wins and sit two points ahead of Juventus on top of the Serie A table.

Over 15,000 Juventus fans signed a petition to have Conte's star removed from the Allianz Stadium Walk of Fame, a move rejected by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli.

"I'm disappointed that he had to intervene, because it just gave publicity to a vulgar proposition," said Conte.

"I didn't even want to discuss this, but you in the media are giving a spotlight to these stupid and ignorant people.

"It's increasingly difficult, because society nowadays highlights hatred and violence. I've struggled since I came back to Italy from England. I see situations and wonder why I am even doing this.

"As long as my passion for this sport surpasses these issues, then I will continue. If my passion drops, I will be the first to say enough. It won't be a big loss for football, but it won't be a loss for me either."

Former Italy midfielder Conte won five Serie A titles over a 13-year spell as a player in Turin, and was part of the last Juventus team to lift the Champions League trophy in 1996.

He returned to coach the club in 2011, leaving three years later to coach Italy.

- Conte v Sarri rivalry -

The match will also rekindle the rivalry between Conte and long-time rival Maurizio Sarri whose careers have overlapped.

The rivalry goes back to their early coaching careers when both were on the bench of Serie B side Arezzo during the 2006-2007 season.

First Conte took the reins, for what would be his first managerial position, and then Sarri, followed by Conte again before the Tuscany side eventually suffered relegation to Serie C.

Conte, 50, won the Premier League title with Chelsea in 2017, before being replaced by Sarri, 60, who won the Europa League last season for his first trophy.

Both coaches downplayed the importance of their rivalry and also Sunday's match at the San Siro.

"Conte is a great coach as his results with different clubs have shown," Sarri said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.

"There will be a superb match tomorrow, it's Inter v Juventus. I don't understand if you just see it as Conte versus Sarri.

"How much will this match count towards the Scudetto? A number close to zero, there will be 31 games after," continued the former Napoli boss.

"If a ranking at the beginning of October creates a psychological impact, it means that psychologically we are not ready to do great things."

For Conte the match is another step in his ambition to put Inter on course for their first title since 2010.

"Juventus are used to winning, with champions who have already won everything in their careers and have accumulated great international experience.

"We are just starting out."

Inter's new Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku remains uncertain with a muscle injury with former Manchester United teammate Alexis Sanchez suspended.

Juventus meanwhile this week also launched a fresh appeal to have the 2005-06 Serie A title stripped from Inter Milan.

Juventus finished top that year but had the title revoked because of their role in the 'Calciopoli' match-fixing scandal - when five Italians teams were penalised for attempting to influence results by picking certain referees.

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