Friday October 10 2014
Conte fighting fit for Italy

Antonio Conte’s focus on physique and intensity may be what Italy needs, but Mina Rzouki reflects on the complexities in delivering it.

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.

Have your say...
I really don't think the ct is the problem! Prandelli and conte are doing the best they can with the semi decent plays they have to pick from! Prandelli was doing great up until the World Cup, but between him and the the players they fluffed there lines! Pirlo should still be in the team maybe not to play the whole 90 but he has the ideas that no-one else has! I'm a big fan of veratti but he is still young, let him learn from pirlo, maybe using behind the front two until he is older?
on the 16th October, 2014 at 10:21am
... i have always said i would love to be proved wrong because nothing would please me more than for Balotelli to be the great player he was billed to be, but it just hasn't happened, countless excuses and countless chances has made this soap opera all to pradictable, man city, inter, milan and liverpool have all had the same problems, i feel liverpool is his last real chance at a big club but they seem to be already looking at replacement option's. (Sorry- @'Rrr' not 'Pirlo & Co must go')
on the 12th October, 2014 at 7:08pm
@ Pirlo & Co must go
I have always had the mentality that a player has his role and works that role for the good of the team. A goalie is there to stop the ball going in, defence offer cover to goalie, midfield cover/create/attack and a striker is there to score, in my eyes the midfield (pirlo or whoever) created chances and Balotelli missed them, yes he scored against England and scored 2 great goals 3 years ago in euros but he simply isn't good enough or living up to all he was billed to be...
on the 12th October, 2014 at 7:02pm
certainly think we're coming around to mutual agreement: balo was not solely to blame for humiliating world cup exit, but neither is he a 1-man solution going forward. prands did seem to take the tact that blanket trust in the #9 would see italy thru to...say semi's? a meritocratic convocation that actually elects balo by dint of club form would get my backing.
on the 12th October, 2014 at 5:39pm
@Pirlo & Co must go
Against costa rica 3 very clear chances and your man missed! Against Uruguay did nothing but moan, had to be taken off at half time just in case he lost he got red as he was clearly rattled by something. Sound like the kind of man we need? I agree Pirlo and buffon time is up but they did their part, pirlo created the chances and your man missed them. B-man is obviously very influential as his misery brushes of on everyone. Glad he isn't picked. After Liverpool there is no one
on the 12th October, 2014 at 12:07pm
@NO B-MAN MORE GOALS! Balotelli was NOT the problem!!

Unless you're BLIND, we revolved every single system and indeed every game around Pirlo NOT Balotelli.

The experienced players?

You mean the washed-up Pirlo, De Rossi & Buffon stars in the biggest World Cup finals humiliation in Italy’s history, finishing bottom of the weakest pool the Azzurri have ever been in – with no wins and just two points.

keeping the washed-up veterans Pirlo, De Rossi & Buffon in the squad IS the problem.
on the 12th October, 2014 at 4:22am
CT's statement; with that I mean and laugh a lot really about Conte's saying on Verratti; “With two world class players like Pirlo and De Rossi ahead of him, a young man like him must have patience,”. So I say a coach like you must go coach a Serie B team! for real. I say Verratti must be the No. 1 choice ahead of old man Pirlo who should retire and the inconsistent De Rossi! Verratti is super, but ofcourse that would be difficult for Conte to understand, will he ever understand?!
on the 11th October, 2014 at 9:26am
Must say that Conte is clueless as his statement here showed:
“These are games where you face a team that played with almost 10 men man-marking". I like the coach when he has different ideas, more creative and puts solutions to play system when things are going tough, and not only stick on 1 formation! You all believe that Conte will do good with the Nazionale, well thing again! I must say that Azzurri will still struggle and face major problems with the Elite teams.
on the 11th October, 2014 at 9:13am
These games proves HOW boring and what a one-trick-pony of a coach Conte actually is. I love his man-management. Love the enthusiasm and the never-die attitude that he's brought to The Nazionale. exactly what Juve missed before he was brought in. His excuses in Juve was, he doesn't have wingers, he doesn't have this and that, hence the reason why he can't switch away from 352. For the love of god, you're playing Azerbaijan, who plays with 5 defenders. It will be his achilles come big competition
on the 11th October, 2014 at 4:16am
lorenzo note, this response comes from someone accused of being too opaque with his intended meaning - who the heck are you talking about?

really, 'no b-man'? your grand conclusion is exactly why modern civilization abandoned the notion that a sacrificial goat would placate the gods. you don't think careful scrutiny of the german team would uncover 1-under performer within a WORLD CUP WINNING TEAM?
check yo' the beasties so eloquently put it
on the 11th October, 2014 at 3:01am
The problem in the world cup was Balotelli. We revolved every single system around him and when it came to it he failed to deliver, which most of Italy knew he would, except Prandelli.
"1 man is not to blame", that's what those few people who can still stomach the over hyped princess were saying, yet it was all his fault, the experienced players made it very clear what the problem was, his attitude, his selfishness and above all his inability to actually score goals. Scapegoat? No facts!
on the 10th October, 2014 at 4:52pm
thee guys a winner...You can see the attitude difference in the players....if we lose it will not be for a lack of trying..

I juat hope not to see the Jonny Depp wannabe and the master of the backwards pass selected anymore...Italians only please
on the 10th October, 2014 at 2:50pm
I remember the intense training that Italy did before Brazil, then when the time came they all looked utterly exhausted.. I like what Conte is doing. Prandelli's midfield was spectacular but I want more victories. I'm enthusiastic about this new Nazionale and it seems good so far.
on the 10th October, 2014 at 2:10pm

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