After all the speculation, rumors, and supposed discontent earlier this summer, there’s been some great news this week, including Antonio Conte finally putting pen to paper on a new contract. Except, it wasn’t exactly a new contract in a traditional or expected sense — i.e. additional years as well as improved terms — rather just a pay rise, albeit one to the highest wages ever paid by Chelsea to a manager, but with his deal still due to expire in two years just as before.
There is some confusion surrounding the reason why Chelsea didn’t seize the opportunity to extend Conte’s stay even further. After all, the Italian helped lead the club back from a mediocre 10th place finish in 2016 to the top of the table just a year later. With Inter Milan one of several clubs rumoured to be sniffing around in pursuit of one of the more talented coaches in Europe, Roman Abramovich would have been wise to extend Conte’s deal for at least an extra 12 months.
Perhaps the four year deal handed out to Jose Mourinho following the league win in 2015, the first ever contract extension given to a manager by Roman Abramovich, played a part in the board’s decision, as ‘The Special One’ was reverted back into ‘The Sacked One’ for a second time. It led to a hefty pay-out being granted to Mourinho and seemingly, Roman has learned his lesson, though it should be noted that Mourinho agreed to one-year severance package rather than the full term of his contract (and was back to work within six months anyway), unlike, for example, Roberto Di Matteo, who was fully paid out while between jobs.
The frightening thought behind the absence of an extension isn’t whether or not the Chelsea executives have pushed back on being hasty with new contracts, it is the fear that the board realise the strong possibility Conte doesn’t see out the remaining two years of his deal. The ‘Sophomore slump’ applies to basketball more than football but there could be a concern from the decision-makers that Conte falls victim to it.
There’s nothing to suggest the 47-year-old will have a less than stellar year of course. He led Juventus to three successive Serie A titles, a true example of the consistency he can produce. Yet, the Mourinho dismissal two years ago still hurts. And as impressed as the board were with Conte’s achievements this past season, they will want to see more of the same before they hand him a longer deal. Or perhaps this is the new normal, the short-term contract.
Trust goes both ways, after all. Having walked out on Juve because of transfer disagreements, Conte will be wary of committing himself to a club who don’t match his ambitions. The Champions League is still missing from his resumé, and though he has plenty of time to win it, he won’t ever be mistaken for a patient man. At the very least, he will want to be competitive on his and Chelsea’s return to Europe’s premier competition and is all too aware of the club’s need to spend to achieve that.
Different reports suggest different things, but the general belief from most of the media had been that Conte (like many fans) wasn’t best pleased with the transfer market thus far. There were claims he wanted Romelu Lukaku as his new number nine while others suggested he identified Álvaro Morata as the man to lead the line next season. Whichever one you choose to believe, the excitement of Morata’s transfer agreement yesterday was a refreshing relief. Chelsea are likely to pay £60-70 million plus for the Spanish international, and along with the additions of Antonio Rüdiger and Tiemoué Bakayoko, have made good on their promise and commitment to improving the squad.
While another reported Conte target in Danilo is seemingly on his way to Manchester City and the Alex Sandro saga continues to drag on, Conte (like many fans) should be more satisfied with this summer’s dealings than ever 24 hours ago. Chelsea have now gotten younger (Morata, 24 and Bakayoko, 22 and Rüdiger, 24 replacing Costa, 28 and Matić, 28 and Terry or Cahill, both 30+) while also adding depth in defence. There is room for further reinforcements, but the three major new arrivals should strengthen a team that is looking to defend a Premier League crown and compete in Europe. Achieve those two aims, and Conte should be putting pen to paper on another new ( and longer) contract next year.