Italy's Conte likely to be very hard act to follow
By Brian Homewood
PARIS (Reuters) - Antonio Conte far exceeded expectations with a limited Italy squad at Euro 2016 and the coach, who is heading for pastures new at English club Chelsea, is likely to prove a tough act for replacement Giampiero Ventura to follow.
Conte managed to unite the initially sceptical Italian public around his team who knocked out title-holders Spain before taking world champions Germany to a penalty shootout which they lost 6-5 in Saturday's quarter-final.
The fiery coach used a combination of tactical nous and his renowned motivational powers to get the most from a team which was widely regarded, in terms of pure footballing talent, as the weakest to have represented Italy in many years.
"My only regret is to have only worked for a few days with a coach like Conte," midfielder Marco Parolo said.
"We created a team that others fear, a team with no fixed points, where a player who is moved to another position always knows what he has to do, whether it's in the midfield, in defence or attack."
"I'm happy that I was able to share the mentality of the coach who has taught us so much and makes you feel sure of what you do. I've never come across a coach like him."
Ventura, a seasoned club coach who has never won a major trophy, will have to try and rebuild the team with limited resources while competing in a World Cup qualifying group that includes Spain and Euro 2016 finalists Albania.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, 38, has indicated he would like to continue for at least another two years although he has a ready-made replacement in Gianluigi Donnarumma who is already AC Milan's first choice at the age of 17.
The three-man BBC defence of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, the foundation of Conte's team, has a combined age of 95 and will also have to be slowly replaced.
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi, sorely missed when he was ruled out of the Germany game through injury, is another who cannot go on for ever.
Ventura, 68, cannot match Conte's high-energy performances on the touchline although he has a good reputation for helping young players develop and has promising players to work with.
There is still a feeling, however, that with Italy struggling to produce truly outstanding players, Conte had merely papered over the cracks.
Conte and predecessor Cesare Prandelli complained that the national team is only remembered once every two years, when major tournaments come around, and Conte could not resist a parting shot.
"I have never felt that I had any support, I have only ever had the president on my side," he said. "I always felt that I had to fight the wars on my own.
"I hope that what we did can be built upon and that in future we can give more space to the national team. I can't deny that there have been moments where I have wanted the chance to continue but I was faced with certain events that I could not ignore."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)