Antonio Conte is ready to turn Italy back into a powerhouse.
The former Juventus coach, who signed a two-year deal to take over the national team on Tuesday, is replacing Cesare Prandelli, who resigned immediately after Italy’s early elimination from the World Cup in Brazil.
“I didn’t expect to be in this position 35 days after leaving Juventus,” the 45-year-old Conte said. “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.”
Conte steered Juventus to three straight Serie A titles in his three years in charge, and he’s looking to instil the same winning mentality in the national team.
“I like tough challenges. I am very convinced we can rise up again because Italy has to be among the top teams in the world,” Conte said. “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.”
Italy was eliminated from the World Cup in the first round, only two years after the team reached the European Championship final.
During Prandelli’s time in charge, much was made of his strict code of ethics, which saw players excluded from the national team if they had been banned with their clubs or involved in off-the-field disruptions.
“Everyone has to show me on and off the field that they want to be wear the Italy shirt,” Conte said. “It’s better to have 25 less talented players who want to show their worth than players who don’t show their attachment to the Italy shirt. No one can take anything for granted. We’re starting from zero.”
Conte will reportedly earn 8.2 million euros ($11-million) for his two years in charge, some of it supposedly funded by team sponsor Puma. As part of the deal, the Italian football federation owns 100 per cent of Conte’s image rights.
“I accepted the parameters of the federation, my salary is in those parameters,” Conte said. “But Antonio Conte has an image which springs from past victories which the federations decided to make the most of and acknowledge in another way.
“Those who know me, whether as a person or professionally, know that no one can choose in my place or force something on me. Nothing and no one, ever.”
Conte’s first match in charge will be a friendly against the Netherlands in Bari on Sept. 4. Italy opens its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign at Norway five days later.
Italy will also play Croatia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Malta in Group H.
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