Italy’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign had a similar pattern – uninspiring performances with desirable results. In qualification stage it is true that only the results matter but Italy’s displays have not exactly given confidence to their fans. Conte’s tenure as national team coach has been anything other than smooth.
He has clashed with the Serie A clubs on a number of occasions, received death threats and faced controversy over his decision to call oriundi. He has come under heavy criticism for the lack of killer instinct in the squad and overlooking promising young talents. Conte has moved from his favoured 3-5-2 to a more adventurous 4-3-3 but something is still missing from this team. Speculations surrounding his future have not helped either.
Conte has wielded the axe on several under-performing members of the Italy squad following their dismal showing at the 2014 World Cup but he has shown little faith in untested exciting players. There is still some time for Conte to change this before Euro 2016.
The young talent certainly exists; the only uncertainty is whether the former Juventus coach will utilize it. There was a feeling in some matches that Italy were stagnant and in need of rejuvenation. Should he wish to open the door to new faces, there are several uncapped players willing and able to make the step up.
Romagnoli has been brilliant so far for AC Milan
At just 21, Alessio Romagnoli has displayed maturity and composure expected from a veteran professional. Further time to develop into a finished article is on his side.
In 22 league games for the club he has showed a great deal of consistency and formed a formidable partnership with Alex. He has been a big factor as to why Milan have the fifth-best defence in Serie A. As a defender he is an adept reader of the ball and rarely lets the opposition striker settle on the it. He has a tendency to come out of his position and harry his man essentially killing the move even before it begins.
Standing at 188cm tall, it’s no surprise he’s very capable in the air, and upon combining this with his strength and ability to perfectly position his body when dealing with deliveries from wide areas, winning aerial duels against him is quite a challenge.
He is a very able distributor of the ball and is comfortable with his weaker right foot as well. His pass completion rate tells the story here. The elegant left footer has won 1.21 tackles, made more than 2 interceptions and his 7 clearances per game showcases the all-round contributions to the team. Romagnoli has all the tools required to succeed for Italy in the Euros. He has time on his side to iron out his flaws and learn more with experience.
He began his career as a midfielder
Romagnoli grew up in Nettuno, 50km south of Rome. As a kid he played for San Giacomo Nettuno as the last man in five-a-side games and his role was to dictate the entire game. Roma legend Bruno Conti spotted him and persuaded him to join Roma’s academy at the age of nine.
During his academy years he played as a central midfielder which is why he is technically sound and better skilled than any other average centre-backs. It’s no coincidence his present manager Sinisa Mihajlovic rates him so highly. One should remember the Serbian himself was an energetic midfielder before switching to defence.
Mihajlovic who partnered Alessandro Nesta in the great Lazio side in 1999 and 2000 feels Romagnoli is like the legendary Italian. Such a compliment could have been damaging for Alessio but he has kept his feet on the ground and delivered some assured performances throughout the season.
Milan have conceded only 26 goals including 4 in one game against Napoli where Romagnoli was absent due to a suspension. He is really quick across the ground and his tactical awareness for such an young age is excellent. Versatility among defenders is often rarer than in other positions, with Romagnoli’s ability to fulfill multiple roles at the back a major plus point.
Conte should seriously think of Romagnoli for the defence
It might have taken some time but Alessio Romagnoli looks to be finally showing the form that was expected of him. He has played an impressive 22 games for the Rossoneri this season and Mihajlovic has always relied on him when available.
He has shown incredible maturity to handle such a big move so early in his career. He seems to be getting better with every game and his performance in the derby was the best this campaign. His presence may not be enough to improve Milan’s backline but he has accepted the challenge and is personally growing as a result of this. Romagnoli has had to deal with constantly changing partners in Milan’s ever-changing defence but still he has shown improvement in several areas.
He has maintained his tackling success rate of 80 per cent and has begun to win more of his aerial duels. Since joining Milan, he has won 68 per cent of the aerial duels .His technical ability has always impressed, though he seems to lack the rough edge of more experienced compatriots such as Juventus trio Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.
He has made more than 2 interceptions per game which indicates Romagnoli is improving in his awareness of his positioning and movement when in the defensive phase. Romagnoli has also shown enhanced capacity to contribute to building attacks.
He has maintained an 85 per cent pass-completion rate since moving to Milan but has done so while making more passes. In addition, he is averaging 0.14 key passes per game with Milan. These figures show Romagnoli is far from fazed by the greater technical requirements of Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
He is still very young and has a huge amount of potential left to fulfill, but Romagnoli is showing clear signs of development despite the uncertainty around him in Milan’s defence. At just 20 years of age, Alessio Romagnoli is still a part of the Italy under-21 setup. Indeed, his only major international involvement to date was to play in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic.
Now a crucial component in Sinisa Mihajlovic’s plans, Romagnoli looks like the most obvious long-term candidate to replace Giorgio Chiellini in the left-sided centre-back position for Italy. However Conte has so far preferred Davide Astori as a more mature alternative to Chiellini.
Other options include Angelo Ogbonna, Emiliano Moretti, Andrea Ranocchia and Lorenzo Tonell. Romagnoli is studying at the school of hard knocks alongside error-prone players like Cristian Zapata in Milan, while a shaky midfield also regularly exposes the backline. With experienced partners in defence and Gianluigi Buffon in goal, Romagnoli can do even better for Italy.
Italian football’s proudest tradition lies in its incessant production of world class defensive talent. Romagnoli undoubtedly has the necessary attributes to make the step up from Italian U21 side to the senior team and, while Conte has recently shifted away from a back three, a return to the old system would allow space for Romagnoli to line up alongside Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci.
His versatility and knack for adapting to changed tactics has enabled him to cement his reputation as one of the best defenders in Italy. All signs point to him being a regular fixture for his country in the near future. Antonio Conte will be missing a trick if he does not include Romagnoli in the final team for the Euro.