Antonio Conte has been appointed as the new national coach of Italy, but admits the job has come a little earlier than he had expected.
The Azzurri beat England in their opening match of the World Cup Finals earlier this summer, but they were eliminated at the group stage when they lost to both Costa Rica and Uruguay. This signalled the end of Cesare Prandelli’s four-year stint in charge, and came just two years after the 57-year-old led them to the final of Euro 2012 where they lost to Spain.
Roberto Mancini, who won three Scudetto’s whilst in charge of Internazionale and the Premier League with Manchester City, was initially installed as favourite for the hot-seat, but only until Conte left his post as Juventus coach in mid-July. He did so having led the Bianconeri to three Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italia’s in three years.
The 45-year-old, who only won 20 caps for Italy during his playing career, was appointed as Prandelli’s successor on Tuesday afternoon. And whilst Conte, as one of the brightest young coaches in Europe, has long been talked about as a future boss of the national side, he admits he didn’t expect the opportunity to come around quite as soon as it has.
“I didn’t expect to be in this position 35 days after leaving (Juventus),” the former midfield player revealed. “In my head I was going to travel around Europe, improve my languages. I was expecting to wait for a top club in Europe, maybe during the season or at the end. I am very convinced we can rise up again because Italy has to be among the top teams in the world. I like tough challenges. I’m bringing my mentality here. I live for winning. The difference between victory and defeat is for me the same as between life and death.”
Conte has signed a two-year contract, and will reportedly earn around £6.5million. His first match in charge is a friendly in Bari on 2 September against Holland, who for a second time are coached by Guus Hiddink following Louis van Gaal’s departure to Manchester United. Their road to Euro 2016 looks relatively straight forward, with at least two sides guaranteed of qualifying from a group which also contains Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta and Norway.