Antonio Conte, manager of the Italian national team, has the distinct misfortune of heading into a major international tournament with the worst crop of Italian players in recent memory. So unimpressive is the 30-man preliminary roster he just announced, the bulk of which will make up the squad he takes to France for this summer’s Euro 2016, Conte’s had to answer questions about his decision not to call up two particular players who, in more bountiful times, would pretty obviously not be fit to pull on the famous Italian blue.
The two players in question are the ancient legend Andrea Pirlo and the younger, in-form striker Sebastian Giovinco. What these two have in common is that they have recently fled one of the world’s very best clubs in one of the world’s very best leagues—Juventus of Serie A—in favor of MLS, the league where famous old folks on the pitch lure hip young folks into the stadium for a fun evening of drinking and chanting and communing with friends and family. Which is to say, they left a place where their skills were constantly being tested for for one where that, uh, isn’t always quite the case.
Still, these are two names that ring bells among Italy fans: Pirlo, naturally, since he is one of the greatest players Italy has ever produced; Giovinco because he has been around the national team for years and years and has put up ridiculous numbers during his time in MLS, in contrast with the unimpressive stats and performances of the Italian forwards called in his stead. So Conte was asked about his thinking in not calling them up, and he responded. From Football Italia:
“I spoke to Andrea, I needed to hear from him and we sent people to the US,” Conte explained in a Press conference at Coverciano today.
“However, we’ve made other choices and you have to accept them and deal with the consequences. Nothing was left to chance.
“We evaluated him and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play there then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.
“We evaluated them technically, we didn’t leave anything to chance. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, we went everywhere to have clear and precise ideas.
“I picked the 30 who I think will give me the most guarantees.”
“The consequences” here apparently being the lack of a serious challenge to sharpen your skills with every week and the resulting absence from international play that comes with it. It’s not much different than what Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio said about the prospect of his country’s international hopefuls spending their best years in MLS. If you want to come to America for the good money and worse competition, fine; just don’t be surprised if there are ramifications for that.
Neither player is probably all that shocked that he wasn’t given a spot on the roster. Of the two, Giovinco has the better case for inclusion. He really has been great up in Toronto, and is quite obviously a class above everyone he plays against and with. Couple that with the fact that the strikers who are on Italy’s 30-man roster are almost to a man shrug-inducing, it’s not all that strange that some feel the Atomic Ant should’ve been invited instead—less as a vote for MLS’s inherent quality than a vote against the Italian strikers putzing around Europe.
However, as Conte hinted at, it’s hard to judge how Giovinco, say, carving up Sporting Real Charlotte FC would translate against Belgium. And while Conte was supportive of Giovinco’s MLS move when it happened (though I can’t help but detect a hint of shade in the comment “What else should he have done?”), the striker wasn’t one of Conte’s favorites even when they were together at Juventus. If Conte didn’t play Giovinco much when they were a few yards away from each other on the bench at Juve, it makes sense that the manager wouldn’t play him now.
Pirlo, on the other hand, is probably under no delusions of what signing with MLS meant for his international career. Conte even mentioned that he talked to Pirlo about the Euros, and after reading some comments Pirlo recently made regarding his assessment of MLS, I wonder how that conversation went:
As far as his personal US experience, Pirlo said he has adjusted to the new environment and found the level of play quite physical, which he attributed to how players evolve in the US system.
“It’s a very hard league to play in. It’s very physical, there’s a lot of running. So there is a lot of physical work and to me, in my mind, too little play,” said Pirlo.