Italy boss sends message to Liverpool and Southampton strikers

Antonio Conte says Mario Balotelli and Graziano Pelle are welcome in the Italy fold – as long as they subscribe to his team philosophy.

Italy’s World Cup campaign under the leadership of Cesare Prandelli ended in disaster, with the Azzurri crashing out in the group stage.

But with ex-Juventus boss Antonio Conte now at the helm, La Nazionale’s fortunes have already taken a turn for the better.

The Conte era began with a pair of brilliant wins over the Netherlands and Norway earlier this month, but in the absence of a particularly recognisable character.

That character of course was Liverpool newboy Mario Balotelli, and since then there have been persistent questions over whether Conte will ever be willing to call up the 24-year-old.

Conte has now explained his decision to leave out the Reds striker, saying that Balotelli can play his way back into the group – but will be held to a high standard.

He told Corriere dello Sport: “I have no prejudice against Mario. I do not rule anyone out, but I do demand my players act like professionals.

“If you are not focused, if you wander about thinking only of yourself and basically graze on the pitch, then that’s not good enough for me.

“From here on we’ll see who will play, how they play and what attitudes are like on and off the field. With me it’s a constant revolving door policy.”

Whilst Balotelli is looking to regain a lost spot in the squad, however, a fellow Italian striker plying his trade in the Premier League is trying to force his way in for the first time.

Graziano Pelle has got off to a flying start at Southampton with four goals in five games across all competitions and has caught Conte’s eye.

“On top of scoring 50 goals in 57 games in Holland, Pelle is now also scoring in England," he said. "We are watching him, as we are with others.”

Pelle has never featured in Italy’s senior set-up, not hitting his stride in top-flight football until moving to Feyenoord in the summer of 2012 to play under Ronald Koeman.

The 29-year-old has maintained Eredivisie form thus far after following the Dutchman to Saint Mary’s, and Conte is willing to give him a chance.

Maintaining consistency will be key for Pelle to force his way into the national team. As for Balotelli, Conte will be paying close attention to his maturation process back in England – and it’s clear the Italy boss wants to see a change in attitude before welcoming him back.

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