Antonio Conte Has Found The Solution To Europe's Top-Class Striker Shortage


The build-up to these tournaments is naturally dominated by the stars, but there is one stat from the opening round of matches that shows they haven’t yet dominated the competition itself.

None of the favourites for top scorer - Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo - have even been involved in a goal so far.

That will obviously change, and isn’t in itself significant, but is connected to something else significant about Euro 2016 so far.

While there has been no truly stand-out team in what looks to be an open tournament, there is one stand-out trend from the first 12 games now everyone has played: the lack of top-class strikers.

It was evident in almost every match, and in fact only three outright strikers have scored: Arkadiusz Milik, Adam Szalai and Olivier Giroud.

Cristiano Ronaldo offered little for Portugal against Iceland

Giroud’s goal came after missing a series of chances for France against Romania, during a game when France generally looked disjointed and lacking in cutting edge, but still displayed potential to develop and grow.

Germany remained a little ragged in their win over Ukraine, only occasionally touching the heights they should be capable of. Croatia were one of the most impressive sides in the group stage but should really have won by more in their opening match, and that is something that can be said of Poland too, while the other notional dark horses Austria just couldn’t finish at all.

Spain were utterly dominant in their win over the Czech Republic, and enjoyed much more space around the opposition box than in the suffocating days of 2010-12 when sides realised their only open was to just sit as deep as possible against their possession - but that also raised a thought throughout.

If David Villa had that kind of space when he was playing for Spain, or if Spain had a peak David Villa now, we’d likely see a lot more goals.

It is a common issue with many of those teams. While even the top sides at the tournament have at least one big issue they have to solve, and some a fair few, there are still the kind of things you can get away with if you have someone doing the very valuable job of scoring goals.

When that happens, problems simply don’t look as bad.

The lack of strikers is perhaps one reason why it’s been quite a low-scoring tournament so far, even though so much of the football has been very open and entertaining. It certainly has not been negative.

One reason for all that might be that we’re finally reaching the end point of a generation’s worth of coaching. As Arsene Wenger has argued on more than one occasion over the last few years, often specifically citing Germany and Spain, the cosmetic and almost perfect nature of modern academies meaning they are producing all-round technically sound midfielders - but not much else.

Italy players celebrate their win over Belgium

It has been a clear pattern of the tournament too: the dominance of that type of ball playing technical central player who has just enough to play elsewhere but isn’t a specialist. Midfielders who roam have reigned.

The wonder, however, is whether more short-term coaching can overcome some of this - specifically, Antonio Conte’s coaching.

Italy have been one of the most distinctive and also impressive sides in the tournament so far, and the emphatic nature of their win over Belgium has surprised a few people because of the supposedly low quality of the squad. It shouldn’t have, because of the high quality of their manager.

Conte is basically the only coach in this tournament who could get a job at a super-club - indeed, he has one - and that could yet be telling.

The first set of games has already told us a lot.