Antonio Conte released his 23-man squad for the Euros in France to the usual pessimistic groans in Italy. Let’s be clear, if the squad had included players of Roberto Baggio and Sandro Mazzola’s quality, the result would have been the same, there is always disillusionment before a tournament when the Azzurri are involved.
This year it seems like these grumblings may have some reason to them, as the squad looks weaker than it has in decades, especially up front. It was also a surprise that the final selection saw Giacomo Bonaventura omitted, as Milan’s creative winger was left behind in what seems like a bizarre decision.
Moments before the announcement was made, both Sky Italia and Gazzetta Dello Sport presented the final squads, but differed in opinion on who was included. The former Atalanta wide man had been replaced by Federico Bernardeschi by the pink paper and as it came to pass it was this version that was correct.
Fiorentina’s versatile wide man who broke through under Paolo Sousa has performed admirably whether on the wing, as Trequartista or at wing back, and the 21-year old certainly is not a shock pick. The Viola number 10 is on the road to becoming a valuable asset for club and country, but he is certainly a long way from having the talent or ingenuity that can transform a game in a major tournament. In fact, he is arguably the perfect Conte pick, as whilst he is versatile, he is also pragmatic. He works hard, he does more than one job well and he is not going to deviate from his task, despite his penchant for taking on the odd player.
When the Azzurri boss later implied that his team would (due to their inherent weaknesses) play a Catenaccio style of football off set with quick counter attacks, the choice all of a sudden looks a little more puzzling. Whilst the Juventus based back three and goalkeeper will arguably be the strongest and most united defence in the tournament, the team still need to unlock the opponent’s defences, and it is in these counter-attacking moves that Bernardeschi perhaps will not offer enough going forward.
Bonaventura, on the other hand, is simply a player that Italy have nothing else like. Despite his hard working attitude on the training ground and his leadership qualities, he shows more dazzling attributes on the pitch. As Milan tried once again to implode, even more than they have in previous seasons, the 26-year-old has been impressive creating and scoring goals when he has had little or no help from his confused team.
His maturity would have offered much to the team but his vision, awareness and ability to exploit the space could be missed especially if Conte employs his counter attacking methods in the tournament. Whether in a 4-3-3 or a version of 3-5-2, he would be able to adapt to either formation as it changes in and out of possession. It is true that Bernardeschi can do this too, but he hasn’t the ability to unlock a defence, provide that perfect final ball or create a goal out of nothing like Giacomo can.
With seven goals and eight assists and an 82% pass completion rate, many of which are offensive, in all competitions he has weighed in with his fair share. Statistically he is the Rossoneri’s best performer this year and was their second top scorer. What the statistics do not tell you is about his trickery on the ball and how he can bring defenders onto him creating space for his teammates. His pace also would have helped Conte, as Milan have had to (or been forced to) play in a similar manner this term.
There is no doubt that the Azzurri will be disciplined, motivated and well-drilled in France when kick off comes around, but if they are trying to unlock the door of another resolute defence, they may regret not bringing along Giacomo Bonaventura.