As Italy coach Antonio Conte prepares for a prestige friendly tonight against Germany at the Allianz Arena in Munich, he could be forgiven for having one or two other matters on his mind. From now until June, Conte and Italy’s preparations for Euro 2016 seem destined to run into “distractions”.
Ever since Football Federation President Carlo Tavecchio announced in mid-March that Conte’s contract with Italy would end at the Euro 2016 Finals in France, there has been an obvious risk that commentators, especially British ones, would be much more interested in speculation about his likely future with Chelsea in the Premiership than in his preparation for the Euro finals.
On top of that, next month Conte will be one of 104 people due to be tried in the infamous, Cremona based “Last Bet” matchfixing trial. Essentially, he is charged with not having reported a typical, last day of season Serie B relegation/promotion “fix” in May 2011 between Albinoleffe, who needed the points, and already promoted Siena, then coached by Conte. Albinoleffe won the game, 1-0.
Conte has repeatedly declared himself innocent of any wrongdoing whilst his lawyers have requested a fast track hearing which should arrive at a verdict by the end of April. All being well, the “Last Bet” issue will be out of the way long before Euro 2016 begins but, in the meantime, it will provoke a media storm.
For the time being, it would appear that the Premiership distraction is going to cause him more problems. When Conte met the media last week at the Federation training centre of Coverciano, Florence, he was greeted by a media pack that featured an unusually high number of British media colleagues.
“They are just here to find out all about Italian football…”, joked the Italian coach with Federation boss, Tavecchio.
For his part, Tavecchio had prefaced the news conference by saying, in the hearing of reporters:
“You’re going to Chelsea, are you? Be careful”, reported La Reppublica.
Judged on their performance in a 1-1 draw with Spain at Udine’s new Dacia Arena last Thursday, all the speculation about Conte does not seem to be inhibiting his team. Perhaps the “Special One” principle is at work here. Whilst there is a lot of talk about the manager/coach, then the pressure is off the players.
In a game in which Italy had much the better of the exchanges, the home side looked sharp and focussed. Arguably the game offered Conte reassuring news in that regular first choices such as Juve’s Leonardo Bonucci and Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian in defence as well as Inter’s Eder, Juve’s Simone Zaza and Southampton’s Graziano Pellè in attack all looked very solid.
More importantly, fringe team players such as goalscorer Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli, debutant midfielder Federico Bernardeschi of Fiorentina and recalled Italo-Brazilian Thiago Motta of PSG all looked like they could do an important job for Conte in France. The coach will be hoping for more of the same against Germany, a country against which Italy has scored some famous recent “semi-final” victories, in Dortmund at the 2006 World Cup and in Warsaw for the Euro 2012 finals.
Conte may well use the Germany friendly to further try out players like Insigne and Bernardeschi as well as Napoli’s Italo-Brazilian Jorghino. The Italian coach knows all too well that a German side which went from 2-0 up to losing 3-2 to England on Saturday may well have a point or two to make. This could be another informative game…but, in the meantime, stand by for lots of questions to Conte about Chelsea.
ITALY (3-4-3): Buffon; Darmian, Bonucci, Acerbi; De Silvestri, Jorginho, Montolivo, Giaccherini; Insigne (El Shaarawy), Bernardeschi, Zaza.
GERMANY (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Ginter, Mustafi, Hummels, Hector; Kramer, Kroos; Muller, Draxler, Reus; Gotze.