Italy coach`s Puma deal sparks fears of conflict of interest

Rome: Antonio Conte will earn more than any other Italy coach before him thanks to a deal with kit sponsors Puma, Italian media reported Friday, sparking questions over a possible conflict of interest.

The former Juventus boss was named the new coach of Italy on Thursday on a two-year contract, and will be paid 3.2 million euros (£2.5m, $4.28m) a year -- with over half coming from sportswear giant Puma, the reports said.

Conte can also boost his earnings with bonuses linked to qualifying the team for the Euro 2016 finals as well as improving his team`s world ranking, currently 14, to among the top eight.

He is expected to hold a press conference in Rome on Tuesday during which the exact details of his salary will be revealed.

"Conte: the best and the best paid," the country`s biggest-selling daily Corriere della Sera said, with editorialist Mario Sconcerti describing the 45-year-old as "by far the best choice".

"His charisma, having won a lot, and recently, will give him a momentum with the players that no other coach has ever had," he said.

Conte steered Juventus to a third consecutive title last season, the first time the club had achieved the feat since a five-season title run in the 1930s.

But Puma`s role in securing Conte for the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) -- the first time any such deal has been made in Italy -- has left many critics fearing the sponsor will wield too much power."How will Conte deal with the players who have contracts with the same sponsor who is paying his salary? Who will have the final say when it comes to renewing a contract?" Maurizio Crosetti in La Repubblica asked.

"Will it be the banana man who will decide? Or Puma`s managing director?" he said in a reference to FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio, who was elected last week despite describing African players as "banana eaters".

Stefano Semeraro in La Stampa warned that "sport has always been tied up with questions of ethics... but this summer Italian football has had to deal with the interference, real or feared, of commercial interests."

The concern, he said, is that a coach paid by a sponsor "could favour a colleague of the same brand ahead of an athlete sponsored by someone else."

Conte`s first match in charge will be on September 4 when Italy face the Netherlands in a friendly.

Five days later, Italy begin their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in Norway and the pressure will be on for a team whose failure in Brazil was the second successive World Cup at which they had failed to get out of the group stage.

With a contract running until July 31, 2016, Conte has a mission "to relaunch the national team and develop new players from across the federation`s training centres", said a statement released by FICG.

Conte`s time in charge of Juve was not without its controversial moments as, in the summer of 2013, he was caught up in a corruption row after he was charged with failing to report attempted match-fixing during his time with his previous club Siena.

He protested his innocence but was banned for 10 months, reduced on appeal to a four-month touchline ban, which saw him miss the first half of last season.

Conte, who captained the club during his playing career which stretched over more than 500 games and included five league titles, also led Juve to a record points haul of 102 points as they won their 30th official league title last season.

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