Italy coach Conte: "If you choose to play in @MLS, you pay the consequences in footballing terms." What are everyone's thoughts on this?— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) May 24, 2016
Thanks for asking, Landon. Except there's not much of a discussion when you boil it down.
Because when Italian national team head coach Antonio Conte made his decision on Monday to leave Andrea Pirlo and reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco off his Euro 2016 roster, it was a purely subjective evaluation – a question of taste and style, which Conte obviously has the prerogative to make.
But for Conte to turn what was a personal decision into a statement of fact on Tuesday that "if you choose to go and play there then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms" is an ignorant move, a gratuitous dig and the perpetuation of a tired soccer cliché.
And frankly, I expect better from the soccer-sophisticated Italians, who by the way have struggled against MLS-heavy US squads over the last 15 years (including a 1-1 draw at the 2006 World Cup) – the same MLS-heavy US squads who continue to win international acclaim at World Cups.
I also expect Conte to at least keep his story straight. Here's what he said in January 2015 about Giovinco's move to MLS: "It's an opportunity that as a soccer player I would've taken immediately. I never had the experience overseas and it's very formative."
Plus, what exactly did Conte's technical staff, which supposedly scouted both Pirlo and Giovinco for seven days, come up with to prove that MLS had a detrimental effect to their international careers? What's the science behind it? What data or observations did their technical report contain? Why not share it?
And how does it account for the fact that the "MLS effect" hadn't quite taken hold of Giovinco last October, when he was good enough to clinch qualification for Italy to the Euros by coming off the bench to serve as the catalyst in the Azzurri's come-from-behind win vs. Norway?
Imagine what a surprise it'll be when Conte finds out that the other European players in MLS with a legitimate shot of making the Euros actually made their team: Montreal's Laurent Ciman (Belgium), Colorado's Shkelzen Gashi (Albania) and Ireland's Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) and Kevin Doyle (Colorado Rapids), who happen to face Conte's Italy in the third and final Group E match on June 22 in Lille (And wouldn't that be an interesting twist of fate if Keane or Doyle had something to do with a potential Italian ouster?).
Giovinco won't be speaking to the press until Wednesday, but here's hoping at least he has specifics he can share about that Conte evaluation. And maybe he'll be encouraged to go public with it by his teammate, Michael Bradley, who didn't hide how he was treated in Europe and whose father Bob Bradley has been fighting the good fight against deep-seated Euro soccer bias.
Look, MLS is not helped by the fact that outside of CONCACAF Champions League, it doesn't participate in regular international competition that could help change perception. But there's also this: Couldn't Conte have simply done without the jab? Couldn't he just have left it that he picked Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne over Giovinco (he hinted at it in his media comments)? Or that it was a technical decision to leave Pirlo out (which he actually said)?
Yet he had to go for the cliché dig at MLS. Coming from a manager labeled as "provincial" in his own country because he's failed to win in Europe, that was as provincial a statement as they come.