He may not have the charisma of a Jose Mourinho or the international reputation of a Guus Hiddink but after Italy’s victory over the team rated the best in Europe, Chelsea might have got themselves the most tactically-astute manager in the business.
Antonio Conte led what seemed an elderly, limited Italy that had been castigated by its own media into the nearest thing Euro 2016 has to a group of death. They were not expected to do anything against Belgium but in Lyon they produced the first real shock of the tournament.
“I am sure he will be a great success in England, why shouldn’t he be?” said Matteo Darmian, whom Louis van Gaal had played at right back for Manchester United. On Monday night, Conte employed him on the left wing.
“He is someone who gives every one of his players total confidence whatever they are asked to do,” said Darmian. “He not only works you physically but on the mental side as well. He has got us so strong at the back, which is something you saw against Belgium, that we know we can always pinch something going forward.”
Conte is someone who trusts to experience. The three Juventus centre-halves who kept Romelu Lukaku largely at bay have a combined age of 95. At 38, his goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, is old enough to have conceded a goal to the Belgium manager, Marc Wilmots.
Chelsea may have won five out of the last seven FA Youth Cups but their young footballers may get no more of a chance than they did under Mourinho. However, when they do break through into the first team at Stamford Bridge, they may receive an education.
“He is a very particular manager,” said the 32-year-old Daniele de Rossi. “He takes a lot of care about every single detail. He spends hours making videos and watching videos of our opponents.
“He prepares matches better than anyone I have ever come across and you can see that on the pitch because you can see that everyone knows exactly what they have to do and where our team-mates are.
“I have played under other good managers (such as Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi with whom he won the World Cup) but Conte is as good as any of them. He is a special kind of manager.”
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