Italy’s players have identified Antonio Conte as the crucial factor in their European Championship win over Belgium, with Daniele De Rossi describing Chelsea’s manager-in-waiting as one of the best in the world.
Conte’s team confounded their pre-tournament critics and Belgium’s status as one of the favourites with an eye-catching display here on Monday, when goals from Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini and Southampton’s Graziano Pellè gave Italy their first opening win at a European Championship in four attempts. The performance whetted the appetite for Italy’s prospects in France and would also have been of major interest at Stamford Bridge, where Conte will start as manager after the competition.
Italy’s coach refused to get carried away with the defeat of Belgium – reminding his squad that they started the last World Cup with a 2-1 defeat of England only to exit at the group stage – and credited a supreme collective effort rather than any individuals. His players did that for him, however, praising the former Juventus coach for organising the downfall of a Belgium team ranked second in the world.
The Roma midfielder De Rossi said: “I’ve played under a lot of good managers but he is one of the best there is. He’s a special kind of coach. He’s a very particular manager. 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 else and you can see that on the pitch because everyone knows exactly what they have to do and where our team-mates are and that makes it easier for us.”
Conte’s attention to detail and tactical prowess was a recurring theme among the Italy players following the 2-0 victory. The Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian said: “He’s a great manager who gives every player who works for him total confidence. Every player in the squad wants to give 100% for him every time, in training or on the pitch – he’s that sort of manager. He’s great in every aspect of the game.
“He works on you physically but also on the mental side as well. He has everyone knowing exactly what they have to do; he is such a well-organised coach. He has got us so strong at the back – you saw that against Belgium. We are difficult to score against and with that, then we know we can always pinch something going forward. I am sure he will be a big success in England – why shouldn’t he be? He is a good manager for Italy, so I am sure he can be just as big a success when he starts work in the Premier League.”
Giaccherini, who opened the scoring with a sublime touch and finish from Leonardo Bonucci’s ball over the Belgium defence, struggled to adapt to the Premier League with Sunderland following his move from Italy in 2013. But the former Juventus attacking midfielder insists the transition will be straightforward for the Azzurri coach.
“Conte is strong manager in every way,” the 31-year-old said. “He works so hard on everything during the week in training and wants every player to know exactly what he wants to do in every aspect of their game – defence, midfield and attack. He is so focused. I’d say he is a unique manager in that respect. There is no one like him. He will be success, I am sure of that – he will definitely do really well. He will have a strong bunch of players, and he is very capable of getting everyone to adapt to his ideas about football. He is a manager the players love and who love to play for.”
Giaccherini enjoyed a productive loan spell at Bologna last season and Torino have approached Sunderland with a view to him returning on a permanent basis for £2m. But he insisted his future had not been decided.
“I don’t know about Sunderland,” said Giaccherini, who was named man of the match by the Uefa observer David Trezeguet. “Right now I am just thinking about the Euros and I will think about them next month when this tournament is over. I haven’t spoken to [Sunderland manager] Sam Allardyce yet but maybe I will be doing so in the next two weeks. I will be happy to go back, I’d have no problem with that, but we will speak about things after the Euros.”
Italy’s focus has turned to Friday’s game against Sweden in Toulouse. Despite their impressive start, De Rossi admitted there was some trepidation about facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a more defensive side than Belgium.
He explained: “Maybe they have less talent than Belgium so they will probably wait in their half and try to play counterattack with long balls. Ibrahimovic is the best forward since the time of Van Basten, except for Ronaldo, but they are different players. We are a little bit scared of his power and his talent but we can beat them the same way that we can beat Belgium – with organisation and by working hard on the training pitch.”
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