Ten years on from the end of his playing career, Antonio Conte is set to take over as coach of the Italian national team. The 45-year-old will be officially unveiled on Tuesday as the new Condottiere of the Italian game, combining his position at the helm of La Nazionale with a role in charge of Italy's various youth sides.
Conte will take over from Cesare Prandelli, who resigned from the post after Italy were dumped out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ at the first hurdle. In need of a new challenge after leading Juventus to a trio of Serie A titles during his three-year reign, the new coach has signed a two-year deal which will keep him installed until UEFA EURO 2016 – his declared aim.
Originally hailing from the southern town of Lecce in Puglia, Conte is more commonly associated with Turin, having represented Juve 412 times over the space of 12 seasons between 1992 and 2004, including five as captain. A solid, hardworking midfielder with a forthright personality, he collected a long list of honours during his time at the club, including a UEFA Champions League title, the UEFA Cup, five Scudettos and a Coppa Italia. He helped spur his side on to those triumphs with his total commitment from the first minute to the last, as well as his passion and tenacity, qualities that have also served him well since he took up coaching.
Conte's overwhelming hunger to win was evident during his first assignment as a coach with Serie B outfit Arezzo in 2006. He was sacked on 31 October 2006 after his first nine games yielded five draws and four defeats, but he was promptly recalled by the struggling side the following March. Having learned valuable lessons during his initial stint, Conte amassed 24 points from Arezzo's last ten games of the season. Subsequent spells at Bari, Bergamo, Atalanta and Siena then steeled him with even more experience, until he was ready for a return to the club closest to his heart.
With their former stalwart commanding the dugout, Juventus regained their lustre of old. Conte spent three years leading La Vecchia Signora, and during that time the club reigned supreme in Serie A, recording 102 wins, 34 draws and just 15 defeats in 151 games. That brought them three consecutive league titles, so there was more than a little surprise when the man behind their triumphs opted to step down, citing a desire to begin a new adventure beyond the domestic realm.
Broad range of powers
Where that desire might take him began to look a little clearer following Prandelli's departure in the wake of Italy's unsuccessful Brazilian campaign. Indeed, Carlo Tavecchio quickly made contact after being appointed President of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), and Conte laid down a set of clear conditions. Above all, he asked to be able to oversee La Nazionale much as he would a club side, while requesting a broad range of powers. Those included oversight of all of Italy's national sides, freedom from outside interference in team affairs, the liberty to choose his own backroom staff and the right to lay down a severe but fair code of ethics – all in keeping with Conte's reputation as a tireless worker who enjoys full control.
In addition, Conte has asked for the possibility to organise training camps throughout the year, a key reminder that the national team should be considered at least as important as Italy's club sides. He is adamant too that La Nazionale should not be treated as a springboard for promising youngsters, feeling strongly that any player representing his country needs to be ready to slip on the Azzurri shirt – whether they are 20 or 35. Valuing performance as his top priority, Conte puts little stock in age considerations. Lastly, he came to a quick understanding with the FIGC on the issue of salary, and he becomes the second highest paid international coach in world football, behind compatriot and Russia boss Fabio Capello.
Conte takes over a side reeling from a pair of under-par World Cup bids, though Italy are not ready to renounce all the progress made under Prandelli, who boosted hopes at EURO 2012. All the same, La Nazionale will surely profit from a stern leader with a wide-ranging remit as they vie to reinvigorate their fortunes since winning the world title in 2006. Conte will be officially presented on Tuesday but he has already been given a stamp of approval by Italy legends Dino Zoff and Paolo Maldini, who have both hailed the new man as "perfect for La Nazionale."