Those who knew him were surprised. Antonio Conte was the new Coach of Italy and for a man who salivates over the notion of working non stop, thriving on the pressure of everyday footballing life, it was a surprise he wanted to take charge of the Azzurri.
A tremendous winner, what Conte achieved with Juventus was record-breaking. Creating them in his own image, the key to his success lay in his ability to transmit that hunger, that intoxicating desire for success. Together with the players every day, he guided, demanded and implored them to give everything they had for the win.
Cesare Prandelli did well as CT before him up until the World Cup fiasco. Having created a side that focused on exploiting the technical ability of his midfielders, encouraging a fluid style of football, grave errors were made when the time came to impress.
Bizarre tactical choices, odd substitutions, and lack of courage were all cited as reasons behind the failure but in truth, it was down to two reasons. The first was the evident disharmony in the dressing room and the second was the poor physical preparation - the Nazionale simply lacked the required fitness levels to compete at the highest level.
Conte may not play the most dazzling style of football nor is the most likeable tactician in world football but he is a winner. A disciplinarian who prefers hard work to genius ability, he wants to create a side that is well disciplined, incredibly fit and united in every way.
It is for this reason he berated Leonardo Bonucci for his tweet regarding the heated Juventus-Roma match last Sunday and why he has chosen to focus on a group of players willing to sacrifice for one another. He wants to create a harmonious atmosphere within the dressing room where individual quality means little but collective strength is everything. As such the concept of meritocracy is of the utmost importance. No player is called up unless his performances deem him worthy.
The second thing Conte is keen to work on is the team’s fitness level. Unlike Prandelli, the former Bianconeri captain wants to create a side that runs constantly and allows for multiple routes to goal. He’s not interested in rotating the ball patiently, he wants a side that plays at a high tempo, pressing the opponent and expending high levels of energy.
Herein lies a potential problem. At club level, Conte can transmit his ideals on a daily basis, demanding his players maintain exemplary levels of fitness and working on a conditioning process to ensure that, but as Coach of the Nazionale, how much can he really expect to control when club Coaches rule the roost?
In order to ensure none of his players keel over when the time comes to perform, Conte has requested that he be able to monitor his players daily. That includes creating programs that improve the physical fitness of his men, that monitors their recovery time and the healing process should they suffer an injury. He has demanded weekly interviews with club Coaches and is keen to work together to ensure his chosen Italians are in optimum physical condition when the time comes to represent their country.
With his players taking on rather weak opponents over a long stretch of time in these Euro 2016 qualifiers, accurate conclusions cannot be made. The only way to discover whether the Coach’s physical and psychological demands are too exhausting is during a competitive tournament, when the recovery time is shorter and the pressure stifling. Until then, we can enjoy the development of a side that is eager to return to former glory and hope Conte will wield enough control over his men to ensure such success.