Antonio Conte isn’t a man to mince his words.
The Italian national team manager has given his reasoning for not including Sebastian Giovinco or Andrea Pirlo in his initial 30-man Italy squad for the 2016 European Championships in France this summer and it won’t be music to the ear of MLS fans.
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According to La Gazzetta dello Sport Conte spoke to reporters at Italy’s training base and belittled Major League Soccer, essentially claiming that Giovinco and Pirlo playing in MLS means they aren’t up to speed and therefore weren’t available for selection for the Azzurri. Ouch.
In the past Conte had been positive about Giovinco’s move to MLS but apparently that’s not the case anymore.
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Here are Conte’s comments which will sound like fingertips scrapping down a chalkboard to MLS proponents.
“I spoke to Andrea, I needed to hear from him and we sent people to the US,” Conte said. “Nothing was left to chance. We evaluated [Pirlo] and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play MLS 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.”
So, yeah, he said that: “If you choose to go and play MLS then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms.”
When you break down those comments, it appears to be more geared towards Giovinco than Pirlo. The latter has struggled since arriving in MLS but “The Atomic Ant” ripped it up last season on his way to the Golden Boot and MVP honors and has started off this season in similar fashion.
Conte will take over as Chelsea’s manager this summer and (you guessed it) their preseason tour will be in the USA as they play Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.
It will be interesting to hear if Conte gets any abuse from the pro-MLS crowd but they’re pretty use to foreign coaches and players dissing their leagues over the years. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last but it is still disappointing that a manager has decided to go down this route when discussing why he left players off the roster. If that’s how Conte really feels, though, you have to applaud him for being honest.
Yes, MLS is growing. Yes, the standard of play is improving. Yet however you want to sugarcoat it, comments like this from Conte will not improve the reputation of MLS in Europe and especially in Italy. Whether he meant to do that or not, that’s certainly what Conte implied.