Friday, June 14, 2024

Great start for Italy’s Conte despite familiar problems


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ROME: Italy’s new coach Antonio Conte could not be happier with the ways things have gone in his first two games in charge although the usual problems have been rumbling away in the background.
Conte’s first two games have produced two wins, both with convincing performances, and suggested that Italy do have some good young players after all.
Debutant forward Simone Zaza, who started the year on the bench at relegation-threatened Sassuolo, has been the pick of the crop, suggesting Italy are better off without the histrionics of Mario Balotelli, who was not in Conte’s squad.
Zaza won a penalty in last Thursday’s 2-0 friendly win over the Netherlands and scored in yesterday’s 2-0 victory away to Norway in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci warned Balotelli, widely criticised for his performances at the World Cup when Italy staggered out at the group stage, that he would have to work hard to regain his place in the team.
“Mario will have seen the match and it’s true that he’s a great player,” Bonucci told Rai Sport. “If he does what the boss asks he could become a reference point, but he has to come to understand that if he wants to became an important member of the team, he has to run and make sacrifices.
“The problem is he needs to understand that to play for the national team, you have to all work together, run together and move constantly.
“We never had a problem with him, but we know his character, we have tried to help him, we have spoken to him during the World Cup, but his character is his Achilles heel, it makes him swing between strong and fragile.”
Conte has quickly implemented the 3-5-2 system he used during his three years at Juventus, where his team won three successive Serie A titles.
He has also brought his famous work ethic, making the players train twice a day, although Bonucci said there was much more to Conte than his famous rants and throwing bottles of water against the dressing room wall.
“He puts a lot of emphasis on tactics, everyone knows what they have to do,” said Bonucci.
But things rarely go smoothly where Italy are concerned and there has also been plenty of bickering behind the scenes.
A row blew up between the Italian technical staff and Juventus last week when defender Giorgio Chiellini pulled out of the Norway game.
Italy said he would stay with the squad and travel to Oslo for yesterday’s match, while Juve demanded he return to them for treatment which he eventually did.
“We will need to use this experience to handle these situations better next time, both on the part of ourselves and on that of Juventus,” said Conte before the Norway game.
“But I am here to unite and not to divide. This is just an incident where there have been misunderstandings but it ends there.”
There have also been reports that the players are unhappy at the presence of controversial Lazio president Claudio Lotito, a key supporter of new Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Carlo Tavecchio, in the team camp.
Described as “omnipresent” by the Italian media, Lotito was seen on the touchline during training and there were reports that he even entered the changing room at one point.
Lotito said that as a member of the FIGC’s executive committee, he was not breaking any rules and could go where he wanted.
“I am a Federal counsellor, I am part of the presidential board and can propose reforms, so there is nothing in the rules preventing me from staying with the national team and going wherever I want,” he said.
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi said: “I prefer to have as few people as possible around the team, they have told me that’s fair that some federal councillors are there, but there are 21 one of them and I hope they don’t all come at the same time.” (REUTERS)


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