Yesterday, current Italy and future Chelsea manager Antonio Conte crafted another masterclass at the European Championships. His Italian team might not have the individual talent of a Belgium or a France, but it oozes confidence and belief and determination -- all of which can be to Conte's influence.
Other than Iceland, Italy are perhaps the team who have surprised the most, strange as that may be given their history. But let's not forget that Conte was heavily criticized not just for his squad selection, but for several uninspiring results in the previous two years (e.g. Bulgaria draw; two 1-0 wins over Malta; heavy losses in friendlies to Belgium and Germany). He forged this team through those fires and now that they're humming along as designed, everybody's suddenly in love with it (including Chelsea fans). That's the life of a football manager.
"Mr Conte is so important as a coach because he can implement a gameplan and he becomes more important with every match."
"This process which started two years ago has been essential. This national team is shorn of great talent so we must play as a team, have a playing style and Conte is the master at that."
-Leonardo Bonucci; source: Sky
There's a palpable sense that Italy are a team, not just a collection of individuals, and that's not always the case in international football. And that's all down to the big boss, the man at the head of the table, the pater familias. Who will be leaving it all behind in two weeks, if not earlier, for his new Chelsea family.
"We prepare every game in a very detailed fashion. I am someone who tries to give as much information to my players as possible from every perspective. The fewer problems my players encounter on the pitch, the calmer they will be."
"As for my future, you've also heard the players themselves say I'm a real animal out there. I'm someone who really becomes very close to the people I work with. I've made a decision. I've taken a choice. I will have a significant experience abroad, but clearly Italy does have a place in my heart, from every perspective."
"And I really hope to be Italy coach again in the future because there is no experience like being the head coach of the Italian national side."
Unfortunately for Italy, Conte's too good for international football. He needs to be back in the daily grind, as he's talked about before. Of course the life-cycle of a Chelsea manager can be pretty short, too; Conte will no doubt have many career decisions to make in the future, including a possible return to the national team.
"I've always said since I took over the Italian national side that the only route forward to achieve a semblance of success is to try and be a club, a team that plays a league season."
"We can't allow ourselves to simply be a group of players. There's no point in hiding the fact that it's not the rosiest period for Italy in terms of footballing talent so, given the fact that we can't fall back on a selection of good players, we need to be a team from every perspective."
Now Conte and the Azzurri are set to face Germany, the reigning World Cup champions who have managed to unite pure talent with team work under Joachim Löw's command. Conte knows his team are in for a tough time against the Germans, but believes that they can pull through with "titanic" willpower.
"On Saturday we are playing against the best side in the European Championship, bar none. This was hard today and we will need a titanic effort against Germany from every perspective. There are a lot of hurdles in our path but when the going gets tough we do tend to respond."
"I think Germany are a cut above the rest. I've got no problem stating that. We will need to recover our energy levels get some injured players back fit again and prepare the game with the same attention, desire and determination."
-Antonio Conte; source: FourFourTwo
It's hard for us to get too excited or too optimistic for next season given the faulty Chelsea squad that spent the most of last season under performing. But seeing Conte running, kicking, screaming and cheering for and along his players for the entire 90 minutes of yesterday's match have made us a bit more confident that we're in for a positive change at the club next season.
Forza Azzurri. And Forza Chelsea.