Carlo Tavecchio, having been selected as the FIGC president on the August 11 2014, has promptly acted by appointing Antonio Conte as the manager of Gli Azzurri. Antonio Conte left the hot seat in Turin abruptly, leading to Massimiliano Allegri taking his place at the club. The world appeared to be taken aback by this sudden departure of the Juventus hero, but in hindsight, it all seems orchestrated.
With the future of the Italian national football team resting with Antonio Conte, the duration of his contract is indicative that the Italian must prove himself at the UEFA Euro 2016. He has two years to stamp his footballing identity on the side. That will begin with ingraining some grinta (fighting spirit) in the players. Conte will not compromise on his team being gritty, disciplined and grinding out results if need be. Flamboyant football will be secondary on his things-to-do list.
Additionally, he is likely to imprint the Juventus system of 3-5-2 onto the national side. We are likely to see Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leanardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli becoming integral parts of the side. Andrea Pirlo has reversed his retirement from the national team, clearly on the basis of Conte being appointed as boss. He will be fundamental as the deep-lying playmaker and will likely have Claudio Marchisio to his side. Conte is a loyalist and you can expect him to exercise his bias in this regard. Familiarity breeds confidence and Conte has little time to experiment.
The third midfielder’s slot is open for contention. There are several front-runners for this position. Daniele De Rossi is possibly the favourite to occupy this role, but he will need to ward off competition from Riccardo Montolivo, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. The likes of Marco Parolo, Alberto Aquilani, Romulo and Andrea Poli are unlikely to feature in the next two years, unless they genuinely step up at club level.
The wingbacks are key to a 3-5-2. They provide the width to what is otherwise a very narrow formation. Conte will be relieved to know that there are options there he could rely on. Emanuele Giaccherini may receive a call-up, as he is familiar with the demands of playing as a left-wing back. Alternately, Conte could look to Russia and find Domenico Criscito waiting in the wings (no pun intended). AC Milan’s very own Mattia De Sciglio is another option, although he is best suited to playing as a fullback. On the right, Conte could engage Ignazio Abate, a winger turned fullback capable of providing speed on the flank. Matteo Darmian, Christian Maggio and Lorenzo De Silvestri will provide healthy competition.
Finally, we arrive at the forwards department. This is where it gets a bit complicated. Bad-boy Mario Balotelli is undeniably the most talented striker in Italy. But, the team is yet to fully reap the benefits of his talent. Conte is unlikely to tolerate Balotelli’s mood swings and might autocratically eject him from the side. Fortunately, for Conte, he can choose from three top centre forwards to occupy the prima punta (centre-forward) role with Ciro Immobile, Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro providing splendid alternatives to lead the line of attack. The secondary striker situation is a bit tricky, though.
The players currently available are primarily wingers who would need to adjust to playing alongside the centre-forward. Stephan El Shaarawy, Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne are arguably at the top of the list, presenting Conte with a plethora of quality options.
Some parts of the team’s core have in fact already picked themselves. There will be a strong Juventus’ spine, as usual, splintered with additions from other clubs. The players, who wear black and white during most of the season, will be tasked to educate others on Conte’s 3-5-2, which ascertains a quicker, more effective assimilation. Conte will pick players who would best fit his system and not necessarily the best Italian players in Europe. The challenge isn’t finding these players, but instilling in them a strong understanding of the system before the curtains rise in France come 2016.
You can follow Rajath Kumar on Twitter: @rajathkumar; as well as on his AC Milan blog “Milan and Me; The Love Affair” — http://rajaththemilanista.wordpress.com/