In his thirteen years as a combative midfielder for Serie A juggernauts Juventus and the Italian national team, Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, who was also captain for several years, had experienced more than his fair share of glorious victories as well as painful losses.
With Juve, he won five Serie A titles and one Champions League trophy, adding three more scudettos later as head coach of the Old Lady. But he was also runner-up in the league five times, and lost three of the four Champions League finals he played in. His record with the Azzurri was even worse, losing the finals of both the 1994 World Cup (to Brazil on penalty kicks) and Euro 2000 (to France, in extra time), watching both games from the bench, to make matters even more painful.
Second place — or third, or even fourth to a few — might be good enough for some people, but certainly not for the man whose passion it is to win. As manager, Conte uses these experiences to instill his will to win into his players.
"I have a great experience, not only as a manager but as a player. When you play 13 years at Juventus, you have a lot of these situations. I won five titles as a footballer, but a lot of times I arrived in second place, and I think when you arrive in second place it's not good. People remember only those who win."
"I also bring a lot of examples with the national team. I lost two finals, the World Cup and European Championship, and you must know my anger in every game — the will to fight, the will to win — because I know in my career, I am lucky to win a lot, but I also lost a lot."
"When you arrive at this point, you think that everything is simple, but it's not true. You can see in the previous games – Swansea beat Liverpool, and Watford beat Arsenal – there are lots of examples. For this reason, we must pay great attention and prepare every game with great attention."
Chelsea’s first few games under Conte may have resulted in wins, but the underlying performances weren’t always convincing. Last-gasp victories and an unfortunate draw against Swansea City turned out to be harbingers of more bad news; the back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Arsenal still sting a bit to this day.
But from that pain emerged something new and powerful.
"We had a moment when I told the players and underlined the negative situation. After the Liverpool and Arsenal defeats, I said very clearly that we must show we are a great team on the pitch, not only because Chelsea is a great team, but you must show in every game, during the game, that you are a great team, not only because your name is Chelsea."
"After the two defeats a lot of things changed and now I can talk only of positive things and I hope this continues because it means that we are doing something important this season."
That passion isn’t just contained on the training ground or on the pitch; Conte himself lives and breathes every moment of every game on the touchline, yelling, shouting, pantomiming every action and decision that the players make. His antics have been regarded with equal amounts of curiosity, annoyance, and appreciation around England, but his enthusiasm and enjoyment is there for all to see.
"I think I live my work with great intensity because I give, not 100 per cent, but 120/130 per cent. I think in my work I put a great part of my day, I put my passion, my emotion and I try to justify this to my players."
"I live the game with great intensity and sometimes in football, when there are very important moments, to keep my patience and enthusiasm is very difficult. It's good to share these emotions with my players, with my staff and sometimes also with the fans, because I want this and I think I deserve this for the patience that I put in every moment of my life in football."
The early hiccup aside, Conte’s first half-season in charge of Chelsea has gone better than we could’ve imagined in our wildest dreams. On and off the pitch, these are quickly turning into special, historic moments. We know only too well how quickly things can change in football, so let’s enjoy.
"To win the title you need good players with good talent, but also to be a team. You have to be able to put this talent into the team, to create a good organisation, to create a team where every single player knows his position, knows his situation with and without the ball – I think that's important."
"Also to create a family spirit between us. I'm pleased for this because in these six months, we are building something important in this club."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC