Antonio Conte had a wonderful, if somewhat subservient relationship with the press last season — a welcome change from the constant angst of the Mourinho Era — saying all the right things and keeping things very non-controversial in his first year in England. Part of that was undoubtedly down to Conte’s own vocabulary and learning-level English, but he also treated the press with great respect, possibly greater than they deserved, going out of his way to build relationships even through gestures such as treating journalists to a round of drinks at least once, but possibly more often.
It’s been a slightly different story this season. Conte’s language skills have improved, and so have the depth of his interactions alongside it ... though “depth” may not be the right word. Scope? The press have also taken great pleasure in needling the Chelsea boss, creating conflict where none truly exist (such as the Mourinho vs. Conte thing, after which José hit back at the media as well, again). Conte himself has made some questionable moves, too, not only falling for the aforementioned Mourinho ruse, but gathering journalists up in the summer for an unprompted fireside chat of random topics and also waging a cold war for greater control (probably) throughout the summer.
But now, the fairly lengthy honeymoon between the Chelsea boss and the media is well and truly over. He’s now just another Chelsea head coach, and that means constant exit stories, rumors of discord between players, coaches, upper management, and ownership, and other assorted sensationalist claptrap.
Last year, Conte would’ve laughed off these things — and he did, back in September of that year before the formation switch and subsequent 13-match winning streak. This year, no more Mr. Passive Conte. That personality clashed with his on-pitch demeanor anyway, right?
“There is a lot of bullshit. If I see the past it happened the same with a lot of managers. A lot of bullshit. They try to create problems between me, the club and the players. If someone is happy to continue to write this I answer very well in the past. I am answering very well about these different issues.”
“I am in touch with Carlo. He is my friend but he doesn’t mean nothing. I don’t care what the newspaper write about my future or the other person because this is our job and Carlo is my friend. I have great respect for him and he was my coach at Juventus.”
-Antonio Conte; source: The Guardian
Chelsea’s three-match winless run was of course a CRISIS because fortunes and prospects turn on a dime in modern football. And then Carlo Ancelotti, recently fired at Bayern Munich, turned out to watch a game between two of his old teams at the Bridge (Chelsea vs. AS Roma), and while it took the press a few hours, the rumors of Ancelotti replacing Conte weren’t too far behind.
Things turned even more disrespectful a few games (wins, even!) later, when former assistant coach Steve Holland was dragged into the muck and mire with The Sun (surprise, surprise!) claiming that players were texting their discontent to the long-time Chelsea coach who left to be Gareth Southgate’s assistant manager at the England national team this past summer. Holland, because he’s the stand-up individual we know him to be, even felt compelled to contact Conte (with whom he worked together last year obviously) and clear things up.
“This is a lack of respect [to add former assistant manager Steve Holland to the managerial rumour mill].”
“I can accept you write that the club is ready to sack me, I can accept the story with the players, but to put another person in this way is incorrect. It’s not good that this person has to send me a message to tell me this is not true. If you want to hit me, hit me, but not other people. I hate this type of situation.”
“This is a stroll for me. From my experience as a player and a coach this is a stroll for me. You don’t know the pressure you have when you’re the manager of a national team, of your country during a World Cup or a European Championship. Not one person can know this situation.”
“If this news makes the newspaper more interesting, continue to do this, but don’t involve other people because this is incorrect.”
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
Conte’s “no pressure” theme has been running for at least a week now, and this is its strongest offensive so far.
The trouble with insisting that you don’t feel any pressure is that the more you do it and the stronger words you use (like Conte here with the Italy vs. club comparison), the more it seems like you’re actually feeling more and more pressure. Which of course doesn’t make much sense since Chelsea have actually returned to winning ways and if there is one thing we can usually rely on in this extremely results-oriented business, it’s that wins, and only wins, can decrease pressure.
In addition, the trouble with taking on the media is that the media themselves then report on it, which inevitably shifts the goalposts. There is only one loser, ever, in these sorts of cases (see the whole Mourinho vs. media thing from a couple years ago, which was deftly shifted to be a Mourinho vs. FA thing).
In any case, hopefully you enjoyed our relatively bullpucky-free life (other than run of the mill coaching rumors) of the past 12-15 months. We’re now back on the usual grind. Oh hurray.