Antonio Conte’s reputation as a manager has grown steadily over the past decade. The Italian took up management in 2006 at Arezzo, only two years after calling time on his playing career. Stints at Bari, Atalanta and Siena followed before he got his big break at Juventus in 2011.
The 50-year-old helped kickstart Juventus’ domination in Serie A that has continued till date. Conte also managed the Italian national team for a couple of years between 2014 and 2016, before taking up the reins at Premier League giants Chelsea. Two more years there and a twelve-month break later, Conte has rocked up at Inter Milan, trying to knock his former employers, Juventus off the perch of Italian football.
Conte, in his glittering career, won three Serie A titles and the Italian Super Cup with Juventus, one Premier League title and an FA Cup with Chelsea, as well as the Serie B title with Bari. The 50-year-old has also claimed plenty of individual honours along the way.
Naturally, over his career, Conte has had the chance to work with some of the finest footballers of the current era, ranging from the likes of Gianluigi Buffon to Eden Hazard. But who makes the cut into the best XI of footballers to have played under the Italian? Read on to find out;
GK: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
An ever-present in Antonio Conte’s utterly dominant Juventus side, the legendary goalkeeper was his captain as the Bianconeri won league titles year after year under the Italian tactician, while they also reached the UEFA Champions League final once. Buffon was also an ever-present figure in Conte’s Italy national team as well.
CB: Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
Juventus’ success over the last decade was built on a solid foundation provided by a three-man backline, of which Andrea Barzagli was a prominent member. In terms of appearances, the Italian is the fifth-most frequently used player by Conte (115). Barzagli’s physicality, experience and ability to sense danger ensured Juventus remained air-tight at the back.
CB: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
The part of the three-man defence that made Juventus tick, Bonucci was such an important cog in Conte’s system at Juventus due to his exceptional ball-playing abilities. Add to it, his top-notch situation awareness meant only a few got past him. Bonucci is the most frequently used player by Conte in his career, with the centre-back making 136 appearances for Juventus and Italy combined.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
The final part of the 'BBC' defensive trio at Juventus and the leader of the pack. Initially deployed at left-back, Chiellini was moved into the three-man backline as the left-sided centre-back and the Italian has grown into one of the best in the game in that position. Marshalling his troops exceptionally well which made him such a vital member, Chiellini has featured 117 times under Conte for Juve and Italy combined.
Honourable mentions for Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta, who were brilliant for Chelsea in Conte’s two-year stint at the club.
RWB: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus)
Antonio Candreva was a contender, owing to his performances under Conte for the Italian national team, while he has now linked up with the manager at Inter Milan. But it is Stephan Lichtsteiner who gets picked here as the right-sided wing-back. The Swiss defender, with his work-rate and determination, embodied Conte’s style and philosophy on the pitch. Lichtsteiner made 98 appearances under Conte at Juventus, scoring eight goals and assisting 15 more.
CM: Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
A player Conte recruited from Bayer Leverkusen, Arturo Vidal would go on to become the heartbeat of the all-conquering Juventus side under the Italian. The Chilean midfielder, with his energy and tenacious nature, essayed the box-to-box role to such perfection, enabling those around him to go about their jobs without any worry.
In 111 appearances for Juve under Conte, Vidal scored 34 goals and assisted 19 more. Just about edges out Claudio Marchisio, who had been an important player under Conte, but had to deal with a lot of injury problems.
DM: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
Cesc Fabregas was brilliant in Chelsea’s title-winning season in Conte’s first season in charge. But the Spaniard gets beaten to the deep-lying playmaker’s spot by the Maestro, Andrea Pirlo himself. Signed on a free transfer, Pirlo demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the best midfielders ever, dictating and controlling matches from deep midfield for Juventus.
The man who made Conte’s Bianconeri tick, Pirlo featured 119 times under the Italian tactician (Juventus and Italy combined), scoring four goals and assisting 29 more.
CM: Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Another free transfer that turned out be a brilliant piece of business for Conte and Juventus. Pogba arrived as a talented but raw youngster and flourished into one of the most exciting young midfielders in the game under the Italian’s tutelage at Juventus.
The Frenchman played some of his best football under Conte, scoring 12 goals and assisting 16 more, playing a key role in Juve’s 2012/13 and 2013/14 Serie A title wins. Just about edges out compatriot N’Golo Kante, who was a key member of Conte’s brigade at Chelsea.
LWB: Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
A deadline day signing at Chelsea that many dismissed as a panic buy, Conte knew exactly what he was getting with the Spaniard’s transfer. A quality left-sided wing-back was something that Conte lacked at Juventus, but that was not the case at Chelsea, with Alonso proving to be a great fit into the Italian’s system owing to his attacking capabilities. Alonso made 81 appearances at Chelsea under Conte, scoring 14 goals and assisting seven more, playing a key role in the Blues’ league triumph and FA Cup success.
SS: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
One of the biggest driving forces behind Chelsea’s success under Antonio Conte, Eden Hazard had already established himself as one of the best in the Premier League when the Italian arrived. But the Belgian wing-wizard elevated his game to the next level under the former Juventus boss.
Hazard was at his prolific best in his two seasons Chelsea under Conte, bagging 34 goals and setting up 20 more in his 94 appearances.
CF: Diego Costa (Chelsea)
It is no secret that Conte and Costa never really got along. It is well-known that both parties couldn’t wait to stop working with each other. But there is no denying that Conte wouldn’t have won the league title in his first season at Chelsea without the mercurial Costa leading the attack.
The Spanish international plundered 20 goals and set up eight more in 35 league appearances in 2016/17, helping the Blues to the title, before getting shipped off. The fact that Chelsea still haven’t been able to successfully replace Costa is an indicative of how key he was to Conte’s success at Stamford Bridge.