ROME (Reuters) - Antonio Conte, who coached Juventus to three successive Italian league titles, has stunned Serie A by resigning two months after signing a deal for this season.
"I need to announce the decision to mutually terminate my contract with Juventus, which tied us together for this season,” Conte told the Juventus TV Channel. “There was a journey towards this decision.”
Conte, a former Juventus player for 13 years who took charge at the Turin club in 2011, wanted investment in the team in order to mount a serious challenge in the Champions League.
His Serie A champions finished 17 points ahead of second-placed AS Roma as they became the first team to break the 100-points barrier.
The best Conte could muster in Europe, however, was an appearance in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2013, when Juve were brushed aside 4-0 on aggregate by eventual winners Bayern Munich.
Last season they crashed out at the group stage before losing their Europa League semi-final with Benfica 2-1 on aggregate.
"You were a great leader for our lads and this news leaves me enormously sad,” Juventus CEO Andrea Agnelli said on the club website (www.juventus.com).
"I think of the three years we spent together, three years that allowed us to write history with this club: three consecutive league titles, two Italian Super Cups, but above all exponential growth."
Conte's contract with Juve was set to end next June, but at the end of last season he refused to commit his future to the club, where he made more than 500 appearances in 13 years as a player.
Throughout last season he spoke about how a lack of resources was hampering Juve's potential to take on the best on the continent and after winning the title, he said he was “tired”.
Conte refused to comment on his future amid media reports that he is considering putting himself forward for the Italy manager's job after Cesare Prandelli resigned following a disappointing World Cup.
"For now I'm thinking about the present, about the decision I've just made,” added Conte. "I'll think about my future tomorrow."
Conte had a huge impact on Juventus. They finished seventh in Serie A in 2011, 24 points behind champions AC Milan with the club still reeling from the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal that saw them relegated to Serie B and cost them two league titles.
In his first season, Juve saw off Milan and won the league going unbeaten in the process, and in the following two years the gap between his side and the rest of Serie A grew bigger.
Not even Conte's four-month touchline ban at the start of the 2012-13 season for match-fixing offences relating to his time at Siena could stop his side cruising to a second league title in as many years.
Juventus were unstoppable last season, winning every single home game and losing only twice.
Conte's departure will increase speculation around the futures of midfielders Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, who have both been transfer targets for Manchester United.
"It was an unexpected decision, a bolt from the blue,” said Juve captain Gianluigi Buffon at a news conference organised for Carrarese, a club the Italy goalkeeper holds shares in.
"Juventus lose a great deal, it’s pointless denying what our coach truly brings to the team and how much of the credit he deserves for the last three years.
“Probably it is something that matured over time and had been brewing for a while.
“I don’t know why he decided to leave, as I haven’t spoken to him. (But) when you reach decisions like this, the only reason can be you no longer want to continue this type of work.”
(Editing by Rex Gowar and Toby Davis)