Plenty of challenges for Antonio Conte with Italy
Rome: Unloved even in their own country, Italy`s national team clearly need a radical overhaul and, if anyone can do it, then it is the steely-willed Antonio Conte who was named as their new coach on Thursday.
In three seasons as Juventus coach, Conte turned them from a floundering mid-table outfit into the dominant side in Italian football, winning a hat-trick of Serie A titles.
Yet, even though they amassed an astonishing 102 points in and maintained a 100 percent home record in Serie A last season, Conte felt his side had peaked and, rather that sit on his laurels, decided he had to either rebuild or leave.
Having initially agreed to stay, he suddenly parted company after the first training session of the new season, only a few days after the club had failed to land Chile forward Alexis Sanchez.
Instead, he has landed an even bigger challenge, to rebuild an Italy team which is short of confidence, credibility and, more worryingly, world class players following their dire performance at the 2014 World Cup.
Conte`s predecessor Cesare Prandelli had worked hard to bring in new players during his four years in charge to replacing an ageing generation.
Although Prandelli had managed to lead Italy to the final of Euro 2012, when it came to the crunch in Brazil, Italy just did not have the quality and successive 1-0 defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay sent them crashing out at the group stage.
"We have a problem in terms of quality. We knew we would have difficulties against certain teams," said Prandelli, who decide to resign even though his contract ran until 2016.
"Uruguay moved the ball around at an incredible pace, our football doesn`t produce certain types of players, and that is something we should reflect on."
“We need everyone to help and have the desire to turn over a new leaf. There has to be a technical project that starts from the youth academies.”
Even though Italian football is struggling financially, their clubs still prefer to look for foreign imports rather than produce their own players.
Significantly, one of the conditions Conte laid down before accepting the job was that he would have control over the whole national team setup, including the youth teams and development of young players.
"The new coach has shared with (Italian federation football president Carlo Tavecchio) the project to revitalise the national team and to develop new Italy players through federal training centres," said the Italian federation in announcing Conte`s appointment.
"There will be a strong commitment from the coach in the technical sector and as co-ordinator of the youth teams."
Conte will also have his work cut out to drum interest in the national team, which Prandelli frequently complained had waned.
"We are the only national team who leaves for the World Cup without the backing of the fans, when we left we were almost ashamed of going to the World Cup," he said after his side were knocked out.
"There has to be more commitment from the clubs and more love for the Nazionale."
Some felt Prandelli may even have been too nice for the job, which is certainly not a criticism that can be levelled at Conte.
As a combative midfielder, he won five Serie A titles and a Champions League with Juventus, and was in the Italy squad which reached the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Italy and Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo gave a graphic description of Conte`s character in his autobiography.
"Even when we`re winning, Conte comes in (at halftime) and hurls against the wall anything he can lay his hands on... almost always full bottles of water. Fizzy water," said Pirlo.
He said that Conte`s outbursts "crash through the doors of your mind, often quite violently, and settle deep within you."
He also recalled Conte`s opening to the players when he took over at Juventus. "He got everyone together in the gym to introduce himself. He had some venom ready for us. `Lads, we`ve finished seventh each of the last two seasons. Crazy stuff; absolutely appalling. I`ve not come here for that.`"
The most immediate matter to be addressed by Conte could be the future of Mario Balotelli, widely criticised for his performances at the World Cup.
Balotelli filled a Paninni album with stickers of himself after scoring in the 2-1 win over England in Italy`s opening game and posted a photograph of it on his Facebook page.
He followed that with two abject performances against Costa Rica and Uruguay, earning him widespread criticism.
Prandelli said that Balotelli needed to be loved, but Conte could well take a very different approach to the maverick striker.