When Antonio Conte was appointed as Juventus manager three seasons ago, not many knew what to expect from the former Lecce man. The Italian tactician was relatively untested in the top flight and his hiring sent shock waves throughout league. If his playing career was anything to go by, Conte’s team would play with passion and endless drive. Fast forward three years and three scudetti later, Conte’s Juve dominated Italy playing at a level unseen before in the peninsula for the last 5 years.
After a mutual divorce with la Vecchia Signora, the legendary Juventus midfielder was appointed as Cesare Prandelli’s successor for Italy, who resigned after a disappointing World Cup. Azzuri fans are hopeful that their new manager is capable of transforming this Italy side into a world power once again like he did with Juve. The similarities between both teams are striking. Conte arrived to a Juve side that were coming off consecutive 7th place finishes and has now inherited an Italy side coming off consecutive group stage exits at the World Cup. Only time will tell whether he will be able to bring La Nazionale back to the top of world football but until then here’s 5 things to expect from Conte’s Italy.
For one, following Conte’s appointment, expect a sense of accountability to be restored within the squad. One thing that was lacking under Prandelli’s leadership was this aforementioned quality. Too many players took the famed azzuri jersey for granted and didn’t honor the kit. Following Italy’s early exit in Brazil, captain and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon came out and said that younger players get called up to the national team after only playing a few good games. Expect this to change under Conte who will look to only call up players that have earned the jersey. Just a few weeks into his Azzuri tenure Conte showed glimpses of this by leaving out star striker Mario Balotelli. Under Prandelli, Balotelli was accused of receiving favorable treatment and as a result felt like he didn’t have to work for the jersey. When the former Fiorentina tactician’s project failed, he blamed it on his over reliance on Balotelli. Under Conte, no player will receive preferential treatment and everyone will have to earn the right to don the jersey.
2. Better planning
Secondly, under the Italian tactician Italy will have a clear sense of direction. Prandelli was guilty of tinkering too much with different formations and never fully set his mind on a formation since the finals of Euro 2012. Since 2012, Prandelli used 10 different formations all the way to the build up of the World Cup. Also, in the second group game Italy played with the 4-1-4-1 formation, an 11th different set up, for the first time. Under Conte, Italy will most likely move forward with the 3-5-2 formation and on occasions switch to the 4-3-3. Conte’s success with the 3-5-2 speaks for itself and considering his former side makes much of Italy’s core, expect them to adopt similar tactics. This formation will bring out the best in players who have otherwise struggled under Prandelli like Leonardo Bonucci and most importantly will set Italy on a clear path to redemption. As shown through Barcelona’s and Spain’s dominance and their reliance on one formation (4-3-3) over the last few years, it is clear that a team must stick to one formation to succeed at the top. The ability to switch to another formation will be there, however, it is likely that Conte’s nazionale will be one with clear ideas.
Thirdly, like Conte did at Juve, the former Lecce man’s Italy will play with grinta and passion. Prior to the World Cup the Azzuri had not won a game in nine months and looked lifeless. Many blamed this on the fact that most games Italy lost or tied were friendlies and as the games would start to matter Italy’s play would improve. This, however, would carry into the World Cup with the exception of the England game. Against both Costa Rica and Uruguay the Azzuri played with no sense of urgency and never proved deserving of the knockout stages. With Conte at the helm, expect Italy players to run themselves into the ground for their country and never give up until the final whistle. A famous saying in soccer is that teams play in the image of their manager. The perfect example of this is Atletico Madrid who perfectly embody Diego Simeone’s fighting spirit. Make no mistake; this will be the case for Italy. With Conte leading the charge, passion and a sense of pride will be restored among the Azzuri’s ranks.
4. Reliance on experience
Fourthly, on this new-look Italy there will be a heavy reliance on the veteran core of the squad. Under Prandelli, plenty of youngsters were given opportunities and blooded into the team, albeit a bit too early. As seen through his time at Juve, more experienced and players proven at the highest level such as Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi will drive the squad forward. That’s not to say that Italian youngsters will be ignored completely but instead no players will be rushed into the national team. An example of this is Lorenzo Insigne, who in my opinion was rushed on to the scene by Prandelli too soon. The Napoli man crumbled under the pressure and expectations set for him and didn’t perform well for Italy. By hiring Conte, Italy have adopted a manager with a win-now philosophy and will go about achieving this any way he sees fit. The only real youngster to break out at Vinovo under the Italian tactician was Paul Pogba who is an exception to the rule due to his immense talent. Whether Conte will all of a sudden change his views regarding youth remains to be seen but it’s likely that the squad travelling to France for Euro 2016 will be one filled with veterans.
5. Team work
Lastly, Conte will look to unite the squad and restore a team first mentality into the side. After facing adversity for the first time, Prandelli’s side crumbled and started to turn on each other. There was even a post World Cup war of words between Buffon and Antonio Cassano. The former Bari man accused the veterans in the team of controlling everything that goes on within in the team. While Conte values leadership in his veterans, he does not in any way condone them running the team. Conte will look to unite the two sides of the locker room : the younger group of players and the older ones. In my opinion, Conte’s success with the Nazionale depends greatly on this very aspect. If Conte is able to unite this divided group of talented players, he will without a doubt succeed.