Roman Abramovich was in attendance on the final day of the season, and even joined in with the singing and the celebrations as Antonio Conte lifted the Premier League trophy high above his head. Abramovich was bearing witness first-hand to the fruits of nine months of hard work, determination, and commitment, values that Antonio Conte drilled into the expensive collection of talent that the owner’s millions had brought to Stamford Bridge. Abramovich was perhaps even as shocked as the rest of us have been at just how quickly Conte had settled in and turned the club’s fortunes around. Nobody expected a Chelsea team that finished 10th in the previous season to reclaim the title they lost in 2016, but they did. And a large part of that achievement, to say the least, is owed to Conte.
The passionate Italian was the most significant recruit of last year, and it was no surprise to see the likes of Inter Milan sniffing around, interested in acquiring his services earlier this summer. Conte is a tactical wizard and, thanks to the strong relationships he’s built with the majority of his players, is indispensable. Abramovich and the Board need to do everything they can to prevent a situation where Conte would need to be replaced by giving him all the support he deserves, especially in this transfer window.
The recent speculation and murmurings about Conte’s increased unhappiness with the club’s slow progress in the market have been denied by Chelsea. Yet, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And Conte has history of walking out on club when he doesn’t get the backing he feels he needs to compete.
If the 47-year-old was willing to quit as manager of his former club, Juventus, after three successive titles but a lack of proper investment for European success (“Well, you cannot go to eat at a €100 restaurant with just €10 euro in your pocket, can you?”), and willing to quit as manager of Bari after leading them to promotion, there’s little reason why he would offer Chelsea more patience.
"I wanted to play in Serie A with my ideas: this is Conte. The club was aware of what it would mean to wed my project, support my football idea, work with my staff, following exact methods of training.”
"Once the trust was not there anymore, I preferred to mutually cancel the contract. There was no more the agreement in the technical project, on which we had agreed just three weeks ago.”
Conte would have few reservations walking away if he felt the Board weren’t doing enough to present him with a squad capable of challenging on all fronts next year. There’s constant talk of Chelsea’s interest in Tiemoue Bakayoko from AS Monaco, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Alex Sandro of Juventus. Those three would be quality additions. But the more Chelsea dither, the more suggestions there will be that these moves will never come to fruition. A failure to bring in these sort of talents will only heighten the reported tension between Conte & his employers.
Patience and realism is of course required, especially with the crazy inflation going on in the markets. And Chelsea baulking at a world record valuation of Lukaku by Everton is understandable ... so long as there’s a Plan B and Conte isn’t left to deal with a squad that is shorter on numbers and talent than last season. A lack of squad depth was a big reason why the previous group of champions were unable to match their European competitors, and Conte will be wary of that scenario playing out again. There is an argument to be made for both Conte and Mourinho overachieving with this group of players; not reinforcing this summer would be just as short-sighted as it was two years ago.
Conte worked wonders last year with a squad that was deflated and dejected following the disastrous campaign endured in 2015-16. The Board must appreciate the brilliant manager they have and support him without threats to fall in line that risk him walking out on the club. Roman with his itchy trigger finger and the Board with their need for control must to put their faith and trust in Conte, and they need to show that they are doing so clearly and publicly. With the right signings for next year, more success will follow under Antonio Conte.