KEIR RADNEDGE in BORDEAUX: Antonio Conte took a bitter swipe at the Italian football establishment as he took his leave after his Azzurri had been felled on penalties by Germany in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals here.
Italy lost 5-4 after the shootout went to sudden death following a 1-1 extra-time draw in a doggedly fitful quarter-final which did not spring to anything like life until the second half.
The former Juventus coach took over only two years ago and had already decided last November after the qualifiers that he wanted to return to the club world which he will be doing very shortly with English Premier League Chelsea.
But it will be with a tinge of regret that Conte says goodbye to the players who have worked hard and bought into his ‘Club Italy’ concept.
Conte said: “Football can bring you joy and also leave a bad taste but the players gave everthing they could and will always have a place in my heart because these have been two wonderful years for me.
“I’ll never stop thanking the squad and all the staff because we created a magical family atmosphere and its a shame it all ends tonight.”
But the decision had already been taken.
Conte said: “My decision to leave the national job after a two-year spell was made before the tournament. I won’t deny that there did come a time when I would have liked the opportunity to continue however, based on certain facts I wasn’t able to go back on that, and I didn’t feel I had anyone alongside me.
“It seemed I always had to go into battle. It was always Conte against everybody. I’ve always fought for the interests of the national team. Perhaps someone else wanted me to give them the opportunity to create a TV show. But I never felt supporte by anyone.”
Conte said he exempted FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio from this criticism “but he can only go so far.”
He talked of havig built a “small war machine” but added: “My decision [to go] has been taken. It’s a shame because this process has been something in which we have created a sense of family . . . but I’ve had to battle. I fought in vain, for example, to try to over the Italian cup final because I wanted to work with the players but this wasn’t possible.”
Turning to the game, Conte took some consolation in defeat that the World Cup holders had changed their team selection and tactical shape out of respect for Italy.
Conte said: “It’s a shame to go out in this fashion and we were even leading before the fourth penalty. However a top side has gone through and I think Germany are the best side in the world at the moment. The fact that we were able to match them should be considered an achievement.
“We really believed we could do it so ultimately the disappointment was huge in the dressing room after the end of the game.”
Now, to his regret, Conte can take a one-week summer holiday before starting hs new career in English football.
He said: “My future is Chelsea and in a few days time my new season will begin. I would have liked not even to have had a single day’s holiday because that would have meant we were going forward in the European Championship.
“Now I can take seven days off in whch I will try to shift all of this disappointment before taking up the reins at Chelsea. I know it will be a difficult challenge but it’s the sort of challenge I relish.”