Italy manager and future Chelsea boss Antonio Conte named his 23-man roster for Euro 2016, and his squad has never reflected his preference for workmanlike players with a team-first mentality more strongly. Throughout his time at Juventus and now with the Azzurri, Conte has consistently opted for work rate over fantasy, and this team is one crafted in his image.
Italy have often struggled to create chances and score goals under Conte, and his side have only once scored more than two goals in a game since he took the helm in August of 2014, beating mighty Azerbaijan 3-1 in October of 2015. His preference for soldiers over artists has been often criticized by Azzurri supporters, but Conte's (un)surprising decision to leave his most creative players at home for the Euros is another bold one that underlines his belief in the importance of the collective over individual attacking brilliance.
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In March, Conte spoke about this idea in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais: "You have to sacrifice yourself for the team. The team isn't a single element. Obviously the more talent you have, the more chance you have of winning, but I want that talent to be put to use for the team. The team has always been the priority for me, I've never entrusted everything to a single player, no matter how good he was."
Conte's team selections further underline this point. The absence of MLS pair Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco is unsurprising due to Conte's comments about the league, but there is also no space for creative talents Domenico Berardi or Giacomo Bonaventura in his squad. Instead, the Bari native has opted for hardworking Bologna winger (and former favorite at Juventus) Emanuele Giaccherini, tenacious Juventus midfielder Stefano Sturaro, and Lazio's ball-winner Marco Parolo.
Key midfielders Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio have already been ruled out of Euro 2016 due to injury, and with their absence, 24-year-old Napoli playmaker Jorginho was widely expected to inherit the bulk of their tempo-dictating duties on the ball. Instead, the Brazilian-born Jorginho has been left out of the team, with fellow "oriundo" 33-year-old PSG defensive midfielder Thiago Motta handed the number 10 shirt.
Without much fantasy in this team, Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne is expected to shoulder the main creative load going forward. Roma's Stephan El Shaarawy is also coming off a solid campaign after moving from Monaco back to Italy, but it remains to be seen whether Conte will opt for both players in his first XI, or hold one of the two in reserve to help decide matches late.
Italy's stable of strikers is, like the rest of the squad, distinctly lacking in invention, but long on tenacity and work rate. Players like Simone Zaza, Eder, Ciro Immobile and Graziano Pelle are scrappy finishers, but far from known as prolific goal-scorers or for their ability to create chances out of nothing. Instead, Conte will likely rely on their willingness to run and press for the team, creating chances from hard work rather than pure skill on the ball.
Time and again, Italy has entered major international tournaments surrounded by doubt and speculation over their collective ability, only to shock the world and perform above expectations when it comes crunch time. There are major doubts over Antonio Conte's Italy, but it remains to be seen if this collective can come together to produce quality results, or if the lack of attacking talent will be the future Chelsea manager's undoing. It's time to show and prove for Antonio Conte and his Azzurri.
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