Many tacticians have graced the football world and helped shape the very greatness of footballers from the 1920’s through the 60’s till the modern era. Some great footballers have been born with the golden ball right at their feet; others have sprung up right from the drawing board of their mentors.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be fondly remembered by Cristiano Ronaldo as the man who groomed him and designed his every step for the spotlight. Others such as Pep Guardiola would be eternally grateful to Johan Cryuff for honing his football playing skills and planting him right into top football management.
But a manager from Italy has also done great piece of work on some notable players around these days – Antonio Conte.
Conte has developed so many stars and talents in his short managerial career and it will be gratifying for the astute tactician to hear his name mentioned by some as the reason they developed so quickly and perfectly. From his days as manager of Arezzo or Bari, to Atalanta and Siena, one could argue that he was waiting for the perfect time to launch his man management skills and propel individuals to the top without fuss.
At Juventus, he took over a deflated side that needed overhauling, yet his initial arrivals were equally adept to the task at hand, although very inexperienced. This is where we begin to look at Conte’s on hand approach to the game and how he touched specific lives on the pitch.
Here are our five top players Conte has transformed:
#5 Leonardo Bonucci
One of Conte’s masterpieces, the central defender grew into his own and became a household name in Italy after an obscure start to life as a professional footballer. Bonucci was shipped off by Jose Mourinho, then manager at Inter Milan, as part of an exchange deal involving Diego Milito and Thiago Motta. Both would go on to be hits at Guiseppe Meazza but the defender’s move to Bari would see his career turn around at full throttle.
Conte brought in Bonucci to add steel and compliment his backline with breaking play and starting attacks with accurate passes that found the creative midfielders. Alongside Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, Conte managed to form a formidable threesome, the real force in the Italian domestic campaign and the relentless energy that proved the foundation for their solid squad.
Bonucci was a mainstay in the middle of that three-man defence and went on to win three Serie A titles and two Italiana Supercoppa.
"He's (Conte) the coach who took me onto the next level, right from the day he arrived at Juve," Bonucci said. "We had a few disagreements at the very start, also because I wasn't in good shape, but he taught me a lot on a tactical level. When you see top players perform, you just know there’s a genius behind their genius.”
"If today I am one of the best, part of it is down to the gaffer," beamed Bonucci when asked about who had the most influence in his career. He made 96 appearances under Conte at Juventus, scoring six goals. Yet it wasn’t his goals that spelt his emergence as a top-class defender, it was how he now became fearsome among his peers and commanded respect and a regular spot at Juve. Tackles, interceptions and clearances characterised Bonucci’s gameplay.