Italy’s national team boss Antonio Conte recently oversaw his first match as an international manager. Italy played against Norway in the first Euro 2016 qualifiers after having just beaten Netherlands in a friendly. Both games finished as a 2-0 victory for the Italians, which pleased manager Conte. One of the high-profile absentees in the Italian squad for these two matches was Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli, who recently returned back to England in a £ 16 million deal from AC Milan. The forward was valued much higher before the World Cup 2014, but the return of just one goal in three matches did not help his valuation.
Balotelli has also been singled out by many as one of the reasons for the exit, as he was astronomically poor in the group matches against Uruguay and Costa Rica. His only goal came in the opening match against England. Balotelli has previously been criticised by former manager Cesare Prandelli on several occasions in order to keep up his form. Conte deciding to omit the 24-year-old has raised a lot of eyebrows, but the former Juventus manager has confirmed that he has not left out Balotelli in order to send out a message. Conte will have to overcome accusations of favouritism within players in order to succeed as the Italy boss.
“We have been monitoring every match. The call-ups are based on those we observed, with those we had footballing evidence on. I don’t have to send a message to anyone. Those who know me know very well how I operate, how I am, I do not present gifts to anyone. I also told the lads that today there is this group and that as long as they deserve to be in the national squad, to wear the Azzurri shirt they will remain, but that doesn’t mean that who’s there today will be there tomorrow and vice versa,” said Conte.