Antonio Conte has just enhanced his reputation amongst those who were not previously familiar after guiding an Italian team without the star power we are used to as far as a quarter-final penalty shootout against Germany. That Italy team were regarded as one of the best two or three in the competition at that point. Much of that was due to him outsmarting and out-thinking his rival managers in each match. In the end, the same high intensity, high pressure, but fatigue inducing philosophy proved part of Italy’s ultimate downfall as they fell at the last hurdle after looking tired for extended stretches.
Therein highlights the good and not so good points about that Conte team. Italy exerted so much energy in earlier rounds that there wasn’t much left by the quarter final. This was increasingly evident, beginning after roughly 80 minutes against Spain.
What does this all mean for Chelsea and what else can they expect from the man from the nation of coaches (and a few footballers)?
One thing that was a major source of discourse and displeasure was the selection of the Italian squad for the Euros. While not the best pool to select from in terms of talent after injuries to top players, Conte again displayed his philosophical outlook as a team man first rather than individual. This sounds good but Conte sacrifices flair for what he feels will be players that will give 100% at all times. That will bring you a far way but as we saw with the Italians when they wanted that extra bit of quality to match up with the Germans it was left keeping the bench warm. It was funny that Lorenzo Insigne was tactically saved for the penalty shootout instead of for influencing the game in regular time. In limited minutes he showed electric pace and genuine skill to unsettle the Germans on a few occasions. Conte can be forgiven for not starting the Napoli man for it seemed to be either Eder or him in his system. Eder offers a higher workrate and, although nowhere as gifted as Insigne, would have fit the objectives better as a starter to combine with Graziano Pelle.
Lorenzo Insigne was Italy’s Eden Hazard. Hazard is an even better player but he offers that x-factor for the men from London and Chelsea fans should be even a bit concerned that the Belgian will be asked to sacrifice too much of his natural inclination for hard running, team defending and creative tactical plans.
Conte has been described as the Italian Mourinho. For those Chelsea supporters who believe they will be given relief from ‘the Mourinho show’ must think again. If anything he’s even more combustible, more volatile and could be more of a goldmine for the media. This man just said it was him against the world at the Euros. That shows some ego whether true or not. It also shows he responds to adversity well, with results. His performance showed defiance which will augur well for a Chelsea that will go against a plethora of acclaimed managers. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho himself, Mauricio Pochettino, Arsène Wenger, Jürgen Klopp and football legend Ronald Koeman all call England their managerial home in 2016/17. Conte faces a battle not much easier than the Italian job he almost completed at the Euros.
Chelsea will get a Diego Simeone on the touchline. They’ll get a man not afraid to kick away a ball in anger after Emanuele Giaccherini, who has run himself into the ground, fails to stretch to bring a ball under control. They’ll get a brilliant tactician depending on who you ask. They’ll get a personality who will get the best out of all his squad who believe in his philosophy of team over man. What is uncertain is how long they will buy into such a philosophy. Will it be a Marcelo Bielsa situation where players might get jaded after a while at the exertion and sacrifice, or even Louis van Gaal?
The squad challenges and his own inevitable tinkering with formations and lineups are a different discussion. However in Conte, England will welcome a tactician, a warrior, and a man who isn’t too dissimilar to Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone in personality, tactics, ego or effectiveness. We’ll enjoy the show, that’s certain.