Di Biagio: ‘What went wrong’

Italy Under-21 Coach Gigi Di Biagio explains what went wrong in the European Championships, but “growing players matters more than results.”

The Azzurrini crashed out in the group phase, although they finished level on points with eventual trophy winners Sweden, eliminated by a head-to-head record.

He was expected to face the sack, but the FIGC and Antonio Conte opted to keep Di Biagio on for another two years.

Italy Under-21 Coach Gigi Di Biagio explains what went wrong in the European Championships, but “growing players matters more than results.”

The Azzurrini crashed out in the group phase, although they finished level on points with eventual trophy winners Sweden, eliminated by a head-to-head record.

He was expected to face the sack, but the FIGC and Antonio Conte opted to keep Di Biagio on for another two years.

“I had the contract ready before the tournament, but it wouldn’t have been right to sign it then,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I turned down two or three Serie B clubs who called me. I know the way I worked with the side, what we built and today I know the idea in my mind: a new challenge with a new group to play another European Championship.

“Seeing more young players grow and hoping to tell them, as I did the team in the locker room after the England game, ‘I hope I gave you something.’

“I think Conte liked the fact that for a year and a half I had to rely on my intuition more than what I saw every Sunday. I actually had situations where the clubs would act surprised, realising they had a good player only because I had called him up for international duty.

“Above all, Conte and I share the idea that the only way to win is by playing good football. Even going out of the Euros, I remain convinced of that, as we played two and a half out of three games very well. Of course, I could’ve done more.”

Italy had many players available to be called up, including Mattia De Sciglio, Marco Verratti and Stephan El Shaarawy.

“I regret nothing. Even if it doesn’t exist in football, in my view recognition is the basis for all success. If in a few months I need Domenico Berardi or Daniele Rugani, I’d take them, because they were in my squad. The others never were.”

The European Championship fell apart in the opening game, losing 2-1 to 10-man Sweden with a last-gasp penalty. After that they held Portugal 0-0, dominating the match, and crushed England 3-1.

“At half-time in the Sweden game I got really angry, even though I rarely do. I shouted at them that games like this have to be killed off. I had shouted it beforehand too, but evidently I didn’t get through to them. It was my fault.

“Many of the players are ready for the senior Italy squad, such as Davide Zappacosta, Stefano Sturaro and Berardi, plus Lorenzo Crisetig, Danilo Cataldi and Andrea Belotti if they make that next step up in quality.

“I realise not qualifying for the Rio Olympics was a failure for Italian sport, but I also know that our primary function is to prepare players for the Nazionale. The growth of these lads is more important than results.”

Conte warned it was a huge problem that the proportion of foreign players in Serie A is increasing, something Di Biagio agrees with.

“The plan for the next Under-21 era is already clear. We must go beyond Serie A and choose among players we already know, regardless of how often they get to play.”

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