Antonio Conte is Perhaps the 21st Century's Most Underrated Manager

A legendary player, turned managerial genius

After a playing career that saw him play 420 times for Juventus and lift silverware galore, it wasn’t really a surprise to see Antonio Conte transition into the world of management. The former Juventus captain became one of the most decorated and important players, leading the Italian giants to five Italian league titles, along with the Champions League crown in 1996.

Conte’s playing career alone is enough to give him legendary status in Europe, and his managerial career so far only adds to that. However, the work Conte has done as a manager has been largely underrated and he remains a 21st-century managerial legend.

Learning with Bari in the lower leagues proved its worth

Like many former players, Conte began plying his trade at the lower leagues before the step up to the big sides. The Italian’s first managerial role came for Arezzo, in Italy’s Serie B, before moving to Bari in the same division, guiding the team out of a relegation battle and securing a mid-table finish.

Conte had a brief stint in the first division with Atalanta before returning to Serie B with Sienna. Whilst some of his spells in charge of the lower teams haven’t been plain sailing, the former Juventus captain learned the ropes outside of Italy’s top tier and managed to work on his styles and philosophies before moving up to a bigger stage. Unlike a lot of former players that are now coaches, Conte has experience working in the lower leagues to fall back on and the know-how he’s picked up along the way with the mistakes he’s learnt at a lower level. One of the most impressive tenures of Conte’s managerial career was when the man that previously led Juventus to glory as a player got the chance to lead them to glory as a manager in 2011.

Conte took Juve to the top, breaking numerous records on his way – such as Fabio Capello’s 28-game unbeaten run as well as becoming the first manager in a 38-game Serie A season to go the full campaign unbeaten when his side won the Scudetto in his first season. Conte did a remarkable job restoring the Old Lady back as the superior force of Italian football at a time when they were in a complete rut, winning the Serie A title three years in a row. He also added the Italian Supercup in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Conte developed his own 3-5-2 system and tactics in Turin, which have become a staple for his successful teams nowadays. The former Juventus fan favourite doesn’t get enough credit for being the mastermind behind the rise of the team that have dominated Italy over the past decade.

Conte got nowhere near enough credit in England

After storming the Serie A with Juventus and leading the Italian national team to a respectable Euro 2016 campaign in which they beat the likes of Spain and Belgium, Conte moved to England to take charge of Chelsea, a spell which often divides opinion.No one can deny the Italian did a superb job to guide the Blues to the Premier League title in his first season and considering he won Chelsea’s first title in almost eight years with a stunning 93 points, Conte will go down as a Premier League giant too.

The Italian set up in 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 and got the very best out of the likes of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as wing-backs, allowing Eden Hazard to play alongside or just behind the dangerous Diego Costa. Conte set many records in his time at Stamford Bridge, including matching Arsenal's 2002 record of 13 successive league wins in a single season. It really was an incredible first season that put Chelsea back on top of the division and almost all the credit goes to the genius of the former Italy international for transforming this depleted club.

Although it was ultimately his second season that spelled the end for Conte’s reign, his second term in west London was still a brilliant campaign. Whilst they didn’t manage to sustain a European spot, the decision to sack Conte was still harsh, and almost every other club would have kept him on, bar Chelsea.

There was fierce competition from Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all battling it out for a place in the top four, which Chelsea ultimately fell short of by just five points. The sacking does look even harsher when you see that the Italian guided his team to an FA Cup trophy in that season, beating United in the final.

Failing to qualify for Europe’s biggest competition is disappointing, but if the Chelsea board allowed Conte to continue building the team that won him the league and FA Cup, things could have been different in the following seasons. But, then again, this is a club that sacked Carlo Ancelotti after winning the FA Cup and Premier League in his first season, so it’s fair to say that it was them rather than him.

taking over Italy not once, but twice

Since taking over at Inter Milan in 2019, Conte has worked his magic to turn them into a force to be reckoned with in Italian football. He’s built a team with his favoured 3-5-2 system deployed, that has its sights on the Scudetto.

During his first season, he took the Nerazzurri to within a point of the Serie A crown, losing out to Juventus despite losing three fewer games. He also guided his team to the Europa League final, with Inter losing out to serial winners Sevilla, thanks to an unfortunate Romelu Lukaku own goal. Conte has continued to improve his squad in his second season at the San Siro, bringing some experienced talent such as Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid, Arturo Vidal from Barcelona and Aleksandar Kolarov from Roma.

The 51-year-old has got his side working like a well-oiled machine, with a solid defensive shape, attacking wing-backs that can get forward as well as defend, and at the same time, form arguably Europe’s best strike partnership that sees Romelu Lukaku and Latauro Martinez cause problems for any defence in Italy.Inter are currently sitting in first place and four points clear after demolishing their city rivals AC Milan 3-0 a few weeks back. Conte took over a side that were battling for a top four spot and turned them into title contenders that look on the verge of lifting a first Scudetto for the cub in over a decade.

Antonio Conte has shown what a legendary manager he is, winning some of the biggest titles in the game by a distance and it’s fair to say that he is as underappreciated as it gets.

Whilst some continue to doubt his abilities as a coach, you only have to look at his achievements so far, as well as what he’s doing with Inter, to see what the enthusiastic coach can offer.

Put it this way: Chelsea still miss him.

By Jordan Edmonds

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