Unless you have extraordinary levels of cynicism, it’s tough not to get carried away with hopes and dreams of an everlasting glorious future under Antonio Conte. Clearly we’re never not going to win the league, Premier or Champions, and we’ll grow old together so that we can be young forever.
Of course, the shelf life of a modern day Chelsea manager — or any manager at any team, for that matter — is barely a year or two. Mourinho Mk.II was going to be here for ten years before it all fell apart. Di Matteo was the chosen one. Ancelotti’s Double gave him twelve months. We’re hardly unique in this situation — head coaches are easier to discard than players, especially when your name is Roman Abramovich — and there are no new Fergusons or Wengers left in this world. Of the 91 active managers in the top four divisions (the job at Crawley Town is currently vacant after former Chelsea youth coach Dermot Drummy was let go), only 3 have been in the job longer than five seasons. Conte has been Chelsea head coach for just a little over 300 days; 36 of the 91 have held their job for fewer days.
It doesn’t help that Conte arrived with relatively little fanfare (unlike the Guardiola-Mourinho double act in Manchester) but has quickly reminded everyone that he’s been a serial winner all his career, both as a player and as a coach. His salary is also relatively small (unlike Guardiola’s and Mourinho’s) and is thus due a serious raise in the summer, but that has also meant that speculation about his future has been a rather constant feature with Inter Milan coming into lots of new money and Barcelona having to go look for new leadership this summer with the resignation of Luis Enrique. Most teams would no doubt love to have a winner like Conte as their manager. Fortunately, Conte says he’s happy at Chelsea, he’s actively planning for the future and our return to the Champions League, and his family are set to move to London this summer as well to improve his personal living situation. We have no reason to think any of that plan has changed, even if the rumor mill turn over the Inter and Barcelona stories a few more times between now and next season.
But as this morning’s story in the Express has shown, there are ways to make these rumors scarier. In a way, I’m surprised it’s taken this long to start including Leonid Slutsky in the picture. Perhaps they were reminded of him thanks to this actual picture of Slutsky, Abramovich, and Conte watching the FA Youth Cup final at Stamford Bridge the other day.
Slutsky, the former coach of CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team, has been living in London for most of the season and has been spotted at Chelsea several times. The official story is that Abramovich is helping a personal friend settle and look for a job in England, but it doesn’t take much to draw a parallel to a certain Avram Grant who sidled into our lives ten years ago. Is Slutsky the safety condition if Conte’s fortunes turn around as quickly as Mourinho’s did? Is it something far more benign than that? Or is it something more sinister than that? Depending on your disposition, the situation could easily be spun in either direction.
It’d be pretty foolish of me to guarantee any sort of outcome, but other than idle rumor mongering, there’s nothing that would lead me to believe that Conte’s job isn’t as secure as it ever was. Much to the media’s chagrin, everything seems to be just fine at the club and any potential for things go awry (the Diego Costa situation, for example, or the early-season defeats or Conte vs. Emenalo disagreeing over transfers) has been squashed or remedied very quickly and quietly. Winning makes every better and easier, this is true, and we’ll have plenty of drama to deal with at some point eventually, there’s no doubt about that.
But for now, don’t worry, be happy. These are the good times.