Modern football and its many advances in tactical theory have gradually steered away from the norm. Managers are demanding more from every individual on the pitch; the penalty box poacher is tasked with dropping into play, posing as an outlet for buildups. Muscle, awareness and ‘grinta’ all act as standard pre-requisites for the central defender who is now often delegated playmaking duties, along with the ‘portiere’ compelled to initiate attacks comfortably with their feet. Then, we have the archetypal fullback wing-back marauding freely up and down the pitch. Atalanta’s Andrea Conti, currently being pursued by AC Milan, embodies everything it means to be a two-way ‘terzino fluidificante.’
Raised in the renowned La Dea academy in Bergamo, Conti’s ascent up the calcio ladder began back in 2002 when he turned heads at a Milan trial, so much so that the Rossoneri wished to claim him as their own. However, partly due to the club’s youth training ground standing so far from home in the Linate area, Conti declined the red and black’s advances, instead heading northeast of Milano to join Atalanta nearly 41km from home.
Early in the 21st century, Centro Sportivo Bortolotti birthed a new era of premier Italian talents, as present Azzurrini starlets Mattia Caldara, Roberto Gagliardini and Andrea Conti played alongside one another, an inseparable bond that would last a decade. Later, Conti would get his feet wet in Lega Pro with Perugia where his 16 appearances pitched in to the club’s promotion to Serie B. Following this short spell with the Grifoni, Conti spent the ensuing campaign on loan with Virtus Lanciano, showing steady progression over 24 league appearances before fully convincing his parent club to make him a mainstay in the XI for the 2015/16 Serie A season.
2016/17 spawned a massive breakout as several talents, under the guidance of Gian Piero Gasperini, evolved into young stars. Conti was one of them. The Italy U-21 wing-back’s engine never showed signs of slowing down, and he scored an impressive eight goals and set up a further five for an Atalanta side that finished fourth and a secured a seat at the UEFA Europa League table for the first time in club history.
By virtue of his eruption in the top flight, European giants came crawling towards club president Antonio Percassi for the 23-year old, including Chelsea, Juventus, Inter and current frontrunners AC Milan. However, Conti’s agent has thus far acted accordingly to ensure his client’s red and black wish be granted. In the meantime, let’s profile the talent and see what everyone is raving about.
Born in Lecco, Lombardy, Conti is the possessor of a loaded arsenal, equipped with both technical and physical abilities capable of making him one of the elite two-way full-backs on the continent. Gasperini deployed him predominantly out on the right in a role seemingly giving him free reign to play off his speed.
Speaking purely from an attacking sense, there is little Conti doesn’t provide in the final third. Darting, pacey runs come effortlessly, causing unruly havoc most notably when on the offensive. Pass-and-go opportunities occur regularly for Conti, who can play the short ball, burst forward and either lay off to a supporting player to initiate a run towards goal, or overlap into an optimal crossing zone.
Conti’s attacking prowess is there for all to see, though is most evident in his goal and assist output. Whipping crosses arrive into the danger area with pace, seldom missing the mark. Off the ball, he shows his eye for goal by making the occasional late run into the box, looking almost as a false-winger of sorts. The wing-back role requires a very specific skill-set, strongly emphasizing the importance to not only surge forward, but also quickly track back to cover defensive duties with the goal of re-launching attacks.
On the back end, Conti’s unwavering work-rate often disguises his somewhat raw and unrefined defensive ability. You’ll find him intercepting play at a fair rate, ultimately transitioning quickly to revert into entering the attacking phase. Despite being a calculated tackler, it begs the question: do his occasional lapses in discipline force him to execute too many last-gasp challenges, exposing poor positioning?
Consider his age and two years of top-flight football as perhaps contributing factors to his otherwise coarse defensive rep. But, nevertheless, Conti should continue to mature, iron out the deficiencies in his game, and craft out quite the career for himself for club and country – assuming he stays humble and hungry.
Provided Milan sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli is able to successfully pry Conti away from Atalanta, Rossoneri head coach Vincenzo Montella would command a bolstered back unit capable of aligning in multiple setups. Whether the newly extended Italian boss elects for the standard 4-3-3, or explores how his revamped side fare in a 3-5-2, Conti will be immensely important in the starting XI for the 2017/18 season.
The Devil’s wish is to see Conti in rossonero, and in time, he should be under his control.
Words by Matthew Santangelo @Matt_Santangelo
Matt is an Italian football writer who co-founded the blog, Milan Brothers. He is TGU's Social Media Direttore, and his work can also be found at Football Italia and These Football Times.