OVER the course of the next five Chelsea fixtures, the future of Italian football will be decided.
Depending on results, the Blues could find themselves out of every Cup competition and be paddling in the race for the Premier League top four.
With a do-or-die trip to Barcelona in the Champions League, an away FA Cup quarter final against Leicester as well as some tricky league fixtures its a season-defining stretch for the Stamford Bridge side.
They’re already fifth in the top flight, and with matches against top four forces Manchester City and Spurs sandwiching a tricky visit from a Crystal Palace side who have won their last two trips to the Bridge, the pressure on Conte could compound immensely.
And as such, his tenure of manager could come to an unceremonious end, with Chelsea’s loss becoming Italy’s gain.
Conte is Italy’s number one choice to take over as national coach, Italian federation vice-commissioner Alessandro Costacurta revealed on Tuesday.
CHELSEA’S NEXT FIVE MATCHES:
Manchester City (A), Crystal Palace (H), Barcelona (CL, A), Leicester (FA Cup, A), Spurs (H)
“I haven’t chosen yet but I think Conte is the one who could do the best,” Costacurta told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’ll definitely talk with him in a couple of months.” Former AC Milan star Costacurta has been given the task of finding a replacement for Gian Piero Ventura, who was sacked after Italy’s embarrassing World Cup exit.
Conte, 48, coached Italy from 2014 to the quarter-finals of the 2016 European Championship before taking over at Chelsea.
Other candidates include Roberto Mancini, Claudio Ranieri and Carlo Ancelotti. “(Conte) has already shown he knows how to be national coach while the others haven’t yet,” added Costacurta.
Conte led Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first season, but his side are currently fifth in the table, 19 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Costacurta continued: “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy with Mancini or with Ancelotti – although (Ancelotti) seems to have removed himself from consideration.” “I wouldn’t overlook coaches in the league: (Atalanta’s Gian Piero) Gasperini and (Sampdoria’s Marco) Giampaolo would do well.
“I’ll tell you right away that I won’t contact (AC Milan coach Gennaro) Gattuso. It would be a little too early.
“I’m sure he’ll be national coach in a few years because he has everything: character, grit. I really like him, but choosing him now would be bad for him.” Italy Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio has been appointed as an interim replacement for friendlies against Argentina and England next month.ea/mw