The coach insists his omission of the Liverpool striker was a logical one, but warned his players he expects hard work in training if they want to play for their country
Antonio Conte has warned Mario Balotelli and other Italy players that he only wants workhorses, not “grass grazers”, in his team.
Balotelli was surprisingly left out of Conte’s first squad as Azzurri coach, prompting some to ponder whether the striker would need to improve his attitude to return to the national team.
Conte has now given weight to this theory but insisted that absentees from his last squad – including Liverpool’s Balotelli and Atletico Madrid attacker Alessio Cerci – have hope of making future call-ups.
“Anyone who knows me knows the way I work,” he told Corriere dello Sport. “Prior to the games earlier this month, there were some players who were not up to scratch in terms of form and in terms of games played, such as Balotelli and Cerci.
“Choosing not to summon them was natural from this point of view. I evaluate who will play based on attitudes on and off the field.
“There is no player exempt from being picked, but I demand professionalism during training and in technical meetings. My team must memorise the tactics. If you are not careful, and you spend your time in training grazing on grass, you will not get along with me.”
Referring to Marco Verratti’s absence from the pitch in September’s clashes with Netherlands and Norway, Conte added: “We know Verratti’s qualities, but in his position there’s also competition from Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Alberto Aquilani.
“The main problem is that if you have quality and do not run, then that’s not enough for me. You’ve got to give me intensity.”
Conte also acknowledged that he is keeping tabs on Southampton striker Graziano Pelle, who has started his Southampton career in strong fashion following his summer move to the Premier League.
“Pelle scored 50 goals in 57 matches in Netherlands and is scoring in England,” the ex-Juventus boss said. “We’re keeping an eye on him like so many others.
“But if you are in my Italy team, it is because you are doing something extraordinary, not just because you have scored three goals. Otherwise it means that anyone can get in the national team, as it has been lately. We must restore the rightful order.”
Italy are in action again on October 10 against Azerbaijan in their second European Championship qualification game.
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