That was expected by absolutely everybody, regardless of all the stories about him turning down the job or Roberto Mancini being the favourite. The moment Antonio Conte terminated his contract with Juventus by mutual consent with the Azzurri bench vacant, it was obvious he would be the heir to Cesare Prandelli. This being Italy, the decision was met with controversy, complaints and the usual barrage of talking heads trying to stir up trouble.
Realistically, there are only two men capable of taking the Nazionale out of its post-World Cup doldrums and one of them is Conte. The other is Carlo Ancelotti, who quite rightly is in no rush to leave a star-studded Real Madrid side that could well retain the Champions League this season and dominate La Liga. Carletto would be the ideal candidate and one day he will wear that FIGC jacket, but for now we couldn’t really do any better than Conte.
Let’s not forget Italy are in much the same boat as Juventus when Conte took them over. He swept in to fire up a squad that finished seventh for two years running in Serie A and – horror of horrors – failed to qualify for Europe. He brought back confidence, determination and focus in every single game, even against the least enthralling opponents.
Ultimately it was that ability to grind out results each week that stood his Juve out from the rest of the pack. This is precisely what Italy need, as we are sick and tired of seeing our FIFA ranking collapse because the team can’t be bothered to get out of first gear in a friendly. Their attitude stinks against anyone other than the very top teams and it’s no wonder Azzurri matches barely have anyone in the stands. Who wants to pay good money to watch the Nazionale get bossed about by Azerbaijan?
You can say Conte never achieved much in the Champions League, reaching at most the quarter-finals and last year going out in the group phase to Galatasaray. Mind you, Fabio Capello’s Juve dominated Serie A without ever reaching the Champions League Final, while even Marcello Lippi and his all-conquering side won the trophy only once. In its entire history, the Old Lady has won the European Cup just twice. Failure on the continent is not unusual in Conte’s case, but rather perfectly normal for Juventus. We can’t really hold that against him.
Similarly, Conte may well need Italy. Juventus failed to provide him with the players to enact a 4-3-3 or even his original enthralling 4-2-4 approach, but the Azzurri can suit this system. His presence could also prompt Andrea Pirlo to postpone his international retirement for one last hurrah at Euro 2016. Having thrown Paul Pogba into the mix where Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t at Manchester United, this Coach can also give a chance to younger players like Marco Verratti, Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Insigne.
It’s probably too much to hope for that the media and fans will support Conte. They love to pick apart any Italy side, so his will be no different, with the added bonus of those predisposed to blame Juventus for all calcio’s ills. No doubt they will moan that Conte picks lots of Bianconeri players – well they did just win three Serie A titles in a row, it’s not exactly rocket science to focus on them as a core.
The newspapers, TV stations and websites are already running pieces on Conte’s wages, even though they are paid for in part by sponsors in exchange for image rights. Some people seem to think the Nazionale is a charity and anyone taking charge ought to do it for free. A nice idea, but really not how the world works. I want these same critics to take a look at the wages paid in the Premier League to both players and managers, even the most mediocre ones, and realise just how insane football salaries have become.
Even Juventus fans have got in on the act, starting a petition to have his star removed from their Hall of Fame because of his ‘treachery’ at leaving the club for a new job. These people are typical of why the Azzurri bench is a no-win situation – in Italy the club comes first and the Nazionale is only cheered on once a major tournament arrives. In fact, only once they get into the knockouts. In their eyes taking over the national team is not an honour or a step up in Conte’s career path, but rather cashing in without doing much work. With fans like these, who needs enemies...