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Saturday June 11 2016
The Conte-mptibles

Italy’s build-up to Euro 2016 has taken Scott Fleming back to the summer of 2010 - and not in a nice way.

A Coach with one eye on the exit door? Check. A nagging sense that some of the nation’s best young talents will spend the tournament on the beach or the sofa? Check. Murmurs that the final squad of 23 is the worst to ever represent the country at a major competition? Check.

Yes, Euro 2016 is here, and it wouldn’t be an international tournament if Italy didn’t arrive under something of a cloud. The difference this year, however, is that there’s no sense of the Azzurri playing possum to lower their rivals’ guards, no headline-grabbing scandal that somehow unites the players and inspires them to unlikely heroics.

No, there’s a simple reason that the odds on Gigi Buffon getting his hands on the Henry Delaunay trophy early next month are as wide as 18/1 with some bookmakers: quality, or lack thereof.

The final 23 selected by CT Antonio Conte contains Juventus’ fourth choice striker (Simone Zaza), a modestly talented midfield all-rounder who picked up his first cap only last Monday (Stefano Sturaro) and a number of others who spent large portions of the season on the bench at their clubs.

What it doesn’t include is Jorginho, Roberto Soriano, Riccardo Saponara, Domenico Berardi, Franco Vazquez or Andrea Belotti, all young and young-ish attacking players that might - just might - have been capable of adding some of the X factor the actual squad appears to be sorely lacking in.

That said, the reaction to Conte’s omissions has been slightly overblown. The aforementioned six are decent players that will improve with time, but can anyone honestly look at the list and say they see another Totti or Del Piero in there?

Study Cesare Prandelli’s Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 squads and you’ll see names that induce the same cringing sensation you get when you dig an old, out-of-fashion football strip out the back of a cupboard. Antonio Nocerino? Gabriel Paletta? Ugh…

The difference is that during Prandelli’s reign Italy had a much more distinct identity and style of play. There was a sense of a wider project not just predicated on the outcome of each individual tournament, of Prandelli using La Nazionale as a vehicle for positive change in Italian society as a whole.

Of course, with hindsight, looking at how Prandelli’s side floundered embarrassingly in Brazil and the way many of the supposed stars of tomorrow have fallen by the wayside, a lot of these ideas now look like pipe dreams, yet they provided a reassurance about the long-term direction of the Azzurri that simply isn’t there now.

For the nation’s football fans to have ended up in the same collective headspace they were in before World Cup 2010, with Conte seemingly harbouring the same aversion Marcello Lippi had to young players and the same habit of equating big personalities with troublemakers, is pretty depressing.

In fairness to the Chelsea boss-in-waiting, some of the causes of the negativity are out of his hands. It’s not his fault that Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti picked up serious injuries, ripping the heart out of his midfield, or that Andrea Pirlo went to play in MLS, or that Mario Balotelli’s career, which always seemed balanced on a see-saw between brilliance and buffoonery, has swung definitively in the latter direction.

What can be laid at his door are the side’s tactics and personnel, and as of now that’s arguably the biggest cause for concern. 

3-5-2 is a formation lots of Italian sides have found success with in recent years, Conte’s Juve among them, but you need the right players for it. The Azzurri don’t have one confident, in-form striker at present, never mind two, and the system also places a lot of responsibility on the understaffed, uninspiring central midfield area. Moreover, it’s a system that marginalises wingers Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Stephan El Shaarawy and Alessandro Florenzi - the only exciting, unpredictable players in the entire 23.

In spite of all of this though, there remains a ray of hope, if no other reason than the fact that none of the traditional powers look in especially fearsome form going into this competition.

“We were realistic - we were not the best team in the Euros,” recalled Jurgen Klinsmann of Germany’s Euro 96 win in a BBC documentary earlier this week. “But we had an amazing chemistry, an amazing willingness to suffer.”

That’s exactly the kind of attitude Conte has to inject into his similarly limited squad for them to prosper, and his experience of doing just that with the Juventus side that lifted the 2011 Scudetto without losing a single game along the way suggests it might not be as unthinkable as it seems at first glance.

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Have your say...
Scott Fleming waiting for a new article from you maybe called CONTE-nto cuore Azzurro.Enjoy a full dinner of eating your own words pal.And let's hope this wonderful Azzurri journey CONT-I use ha ha lol.....Forza ITALIA GRANDE squadra you owe us one Scottie.
on the 16th June, 2016 at 12:26pm
Every footbal fans including me are fans of fast paced, technically gifted, flair players.. but Conte are not just football fans isnt he?
on the 16th June, 2016 at 10:58am
Well... That was surprising! The oldest lineup in the tournament outperformed the number two in the world. I have to admit that this performance has left me pleasantly surprised and excited for the next game. Though i don't want to get ahead of myself as i don't know if this was our quality or if the pressure simply got to Belgians.
on the 13th June, 2016 at 10:36pm
Just schooled the Belgian punks. So, still doubting Conte? Over to you, haters.
on the 13th June, 2016 at 10:08pm
how Italy fares in this tournament and while I usually have a pretty good idea of how Italian teams will fare this time I’m clueless. The reason is that I believe that ultimately it’s the little things in each game the team will play that will make all the difference, because to be honest this is the kind of team which I see equally capable of being knocked out at group stage as well as reaching the final. Ultimately time will tell, but I still don’t get why most people are so pessimistic...
on the 13th June, 2016 at 1:39pm
Furthermore, it’s not like he left any world class players at home. Don’t get me wrong some of his choices are far from world class, but if he believes them to be the best suited for his style than he did the most logical thing in calling them. Besides how many coaches before him had faith in promising youngsters? At the end of the day if coaches who had the future in mind did not bring youngsters into their squad why should Conte? who’s leaving after this tournament. Conte will be judged on...
on the 13th June, 2016 at 1:37pm
Unlike Prandelli who couldn’t seem to settle on one formation, if there’s one thing Conte can do is get the best out of the Juve defence. His tactics and his choice of midfield are also geared at this. So I do believe that some people are being overly harsh on Conte especially considering that Italy haven’t kicked a ball yet. As for the players he left out, while as I said I don not agree with some of the choices he made, I do admire him for going for the kind of players he knows, or he believes can best implement his tactics.
on the 13th June, 2016 at 1:36pm
I'm a Juve fan and as such I have nothing but respect for what Conte and the Juve Directors achieved. Notwithstanding this, I personally do not agree with some of the choices he made and am sure the football Italy will play will not be entertaining to watch. That said if there is one thing Conte cannot be accused of is that of not having a plan. Indeed he does and it’s a good one. He’s basically playing to Italy’s strength and that is hard work and defensive solidity.....
on the 13th June, 2016 at 1:35pm
GIOVINCO AND BERARDI SHOULD`VE BEEN A MUST AN ABSOLUTE TRAVESTY AT IT`S HIGHEST,FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD,.NOT thiago motta or Daniele Derossi/AND Have you noticed I didn`t capitalise on motta`s name.Anyhow Jorginho or Vasquez 2 Oriundi that should`ve been a sure thing.Especially the most complete pass percent ratio in seria A this year which is none other than Jorginho DUH!.Also Soriano or Saponara would`ve given the AZZURRI that X factor. Oh well in other words SHOULDA COULDA WOULDA but didn`t.
on the 13th June, 2016 at 1:16am
the Italians must accept finite dissapointment,but must never lose infinite hope. When their backs are against the wall That`ll be their time to shine.....I for one questioned Conte`s lineup leading to the EURO`S not feeling hopeful,But he is a tenacious blue psycho eyed bugger with that deathly stare when crossed he`ll zap the heck out of you. Pretty sure this is what this Azzurri squad needs to kickstart themselves on Monday. Oh and Yes a little ladyluck too. BBC WILL PREVAIL YOU`LL SEE.....
on the 13th June, 2016 at 12:47am
Conte has played almost every player out of position, except the CBs. Florenzi has been on the wing all season, now hes going to be elite in the CM position? Give your head a shake. Just because players are willing to play anywhere and can perform modestly there does not mean its a good idea or that there is not someone better suited who has played in that spot all season.
on the 12th June, 2016 at 4:57pm
Indeed, there are a couple exciting attackers in our lineup. Insigne, El Sha, Bernardeschi, but how are they suppose to perform playing in positions they haven't played all season? El Sha as a wingback? Stephan's main asset is his ability to make a run in behind the defense and finish the chance off - how is he going to do this from wingback? Insigne hasn't played as a second striker all season, suddenly hes to preform at a high level in this position?
on the 12th June, 2016 at 4:55pm
All anyone has to do is look at Antonio Conte's Champion League record to see how limited his football ideas are. Serie A had no rival or competition for the title when he reigned supreme. The only positives I see from him as a coach would be his motivational skills and the ability to get players to work hard for him. Tactically he is average at best. Drilled movements in the final third don't produce goals, letting players express creativity is what brings chances.
on the 12th June, 2016 at 4:50pm
@Rocco Also i dont know how well others will do but Conte has done everything opposite of what he was preaching when he first took over. Thats why i simply cant stand behind him in this tournament. I hope that he proves me wrong but i wont be surprised if we dont make it out of our group
on the 12th June, 2016 at 4:39am
@Rocco i am referring to people who seem to think i am a Roma or Napoli supporter. Just because i have immense respect for Conte for what he did at Juve doesnt mean i have to support his decisions with the Azzurri. As for Lippi again i have immense respect for him for what he achieved with both Juve and the Azzurri in Germany but it doesnt change the fact that he made some major mistakes in Africa which led to us having an embarrassing tournament.
on the 12th June, 2016 at 4:35am
Italy will do well. You name me another team that has a more solid defense than Buffon Chiellini Bonucci Barzagli. Exciting players like Insigne Florenzi Candreva. A fantastic young full back Darmian. Pelle a man who knows where the goal is. Italy will surprise. Euro 2012. People think it was just Pirlo. Pirlo was a gem in a treasure chest. Italy have and will always have character and love and in their blood football.
on the 12th June, 2016 at 1:11am
Dear Al Dino I do not know who you are referring to as an ignoramus but mind your manners.First off Lippi has won a World Cup and is an iconic coach.Second yes the 3-5-2 may have some shortcomings vs Europes elite however...do not think for one second that Any Italian coach at this level is not capable of being more than a one trick pony.The Azzurri are truly coming to this World Cup the wolf dressed in sheeps closing The Azzurri are grand Illusionists.Fleming write about things u know
on the 12th June, 2016 at 1:06am
Didnt bother to read this Blog .....
on the 12th June, 2016 at 12:49am
Pelle/Zaza up front....el shawarry/candreva/derossi behind them in the mid field + a defence that is probably the best in the tournament....Italy will surprise!
on the 12th June, 2016 at 12:13am
@some ignoramus on here, I am a Juventus supporter and i appreciate everything Conte did for Juve but at the helm of Azzurri he has done everything opposite of what he promised. Not to mention his insistence on using an one-dimensional 352 formation as well as making the same mistakes as Lippi did in Africa.
on the 12th June, 2016 at 12:11am
I think this article is as close as you can get to someone writing an article that truly is hateful .The word contemptable is a strong word.So what's there to hate about a team that features Buffon,Chellini,Barzagli,Bonucci,Darmian,Florenzi,Candreva,Pelle,DeRossi etc...These players are all world class.This Azzurri defence is second to none...if DeRossi plays as the playmaker Italy will do well.These guys will shine at Euro 2016.As for our coach he is rated as one of the best around.Forza Italia
on the 11th June, 2016 at 10:59pm
I think Al Dino is a butthurt Napolitano. Not that they are any different than the rest a calcio. What will they say when Conte lifts the trophy? I would imagine their heads will explode.
on the 11th June, 2016 at 5:06pm
it would of been much better if Italia has not qualified to the euros! saying so coz i dont like to see italia have an ambarressmen tournament after previous two world cups. but i am certain that a major disaster is to happen in which concerned people in italian football figuring out the deep roots of the problem! we must focus & invest in youngsters. i do not want to see the likes of berlusconi conte tevachio be involved with italian football!!!!
on the 11th June, 2016 at 4:17pm
@Al Dino Let me guess... A butthurt romanista sick of finishing second, or worse, year after year? I understand why you must be tired of Conte. Isn't it really reassuring now that Ventura is ready to take over the job? *headdesk*
on the 11th June, 2016 at 2:36pm
Couldnt agree more with this article all points i was trying to make over the course of a few blog posts. Needless to say that Conte has no plan B and used every excuse he could muster before the qualifiers even ended. He is leaving at the end of this tournament and i say i will be feeling much better once he is gone. Because i cant shake the feeling that certain players who are sitting at home could have given us much better chance of reaching at least the quarters.
on the 11th June, 2016 at 11:01am
Negative everyday towards Conte & Italy. I hope you get to eat up every single word that's been spewed out like vomit these last couple of weeks. Forza Gli Azzurri!
on the 11th June, 2016 at 10:51am

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