Antonio Conte has moved one step closer to taking the reins at Chelsea after it was confirmed he will leave his job as Italy head coach following the upcoming European Championship finals in France. The 46-year-old succeeded Cesare Prandelli as Azzurri boss back in August 2014 in the aftermath of a hugely dispiriting World Cup campaign, which ended in elimination at the group stage courtesy of defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Conte only signed a two-year contract upon his hiring by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and speculation suggesting that he will take over at Stamford Bridge when that deal ends has been rife for several months. Guus Hiddink has impressed since returning to the club for his second stint as interim manager following the sacking of Jose Mourinho in December, but has not been considered for the job on a full-time basis.
Chelsea have yet to announce anything official regarding their next appointment, although it only seems like a matter of time now after confirmation from the FIGC that they will be seeking a new coach later this summer. Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone, current Juventus chief Massimiliano Allegri and former Chile favourite Jorge Sampaoli were also believed to be strong candidates in the race to succeed Mourinho.
"Conte will leave the national team after the European Championships," FIGC president Carlo Tavecchio was quoted as saying by Sky Italia. "He hears the call of the pitch and of daily work, which is understandable."
In his own statement, the former Juventus stalwart said: "Right now, our highest concentration is addressed solely [on the] European Championship where we will try with the work and sacrifice to make the most of our potential. Those who know me know that my commitment is total.
"Then I feel I must go back to [being] the coach at a club, having the opportunity to train every day.
Thanks to President Tavecchio who has accompanied me on a daily basis in this wonderful adventure."
Conte, who became synonymous with Juve during his successful playing career, had already cut his teeth in club management before taking the national team role, guiding the Turin club to three consecutive Serie A titles following spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. He had little trouble in steering his country to qualification for the Euros ahead of Norway as winners of Group H, with the draw for the tournament itself placing the 1968 winners, second seeds by virtue of their Fifa ranking, alongside Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden.