Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte spent most of the past two months in radio silence. On holiday for most of June and busy with pre-season for most of July, Conte’s interactions with the media had been limited to a couple pre-match and post-match press conferences over the past week. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons he sat down yesterday with a few journalists from various outlets, welcoming in the likes of Simon Johnson (Evening Standard, x2, x3, x4, x5), Matt Barlow (Mail, x2), Martyn Ziegler (Times, x2), and John Percy (Telegraph, x2) for about 30 minutes to the coffeshop of the hotel Chelsea are staying at for this last leg of the pre-season tour. By all reports it was a rather informal and open chat, with most journalists getting at least a couple stories out of it.
might be related to this. saw conte talking to a few people in the afternoon. it's kinda odd he'll make comments 5.30am sg time tho pic.twitter.com/irdeQUgU7j— Juck (@clinicaldiego) July 26, 2017
Some, like Simon Johnson made the mistake of hyping up the quotes just a bit too much and sending Twitter into one of their classic frenzies.
Get ready for some interesting comments/revelations from Conte to drop at 10.30pm GMT tonight— Simon Johnson (@sjstandardsport) July 26, 2017
In the end however, most of Conte’s quotes turned out to be takes of the mildest kind, though that hasn’t prevented anyone from making a big deal out of them. Spurs are not elite! Conte hates the youth! Etc.
Here are a few highlights, from the various sources linked at the top.
CHELSEA MADE A PASS AT WALKER
“Honestly, I think now every single player is expensive. If you want Walker, you know that Walker is expensive. We tried to buy Walker. “
“For you to even enquire about one player, he is expensive. You go to buy a right-back, a left-back or a central defender and he is expensive. It is very difficult in the transfer market for the teams that need to improve their squads.”
“Every team has to understand what their ambitions are. If their ambitions are to fight for the title or try to win the Champions League, you must buy expensive players. Otherwise you continue to stay in your level. It’s simple.”
This was in response to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy saying that the Premier League’s spending is unsustainable. On which point he’s probably right, but if we want to be successful now, if we want to improve now rather than over a 5-year project like Spurs, we have to spend like the rest of the big boys. It’s a different story for Spurs who are not only better set up at the moment for the future than Chelsea but do not have the same pressures as far as winning goes that coaches do at Chelsea.
SPURS & PRESSURE
Conte credits Pochettino, as he’s always done and calls Spurs a “very good club”, but...
“My question is this: what are Tottenham’s expectations? If they don’t win the title, it’s not a tragedy. If they don’t arrive in the Champions League, it’s not a tragedy. If they go out in the first round of the Champions League it’s not a tragedy. If they go out after the first [knockout] game that they play in the Europa League and go down against Ghent, it is not a tragedy.”
“Maybe for Chelsea, Arsenal, City, United and — I don’t know — Liverpool, it is a tragedy. You must understand the status of the team.”
“If Barcelona does not compete for the title, it’s a tragedy. It’s the same for Real Madrid. But if Sevilla, for example, does not compete for the title it is not a tragedy and they can breathe. You can think in a different way and you can judge the others but the others must fight to win the title.”
HARRY KANE IS £100M GOOD
“If I had to buy one striker I would go to Kane. He is a complete striker. He is strong physically, with the ball, without the ball, he fights and he’s strong in the air and acrobatic on the right and the left. He’s a complete player. He’s one of the top strikers in the world. If you go to buy Kane now it would be at least £100m. At least. For me, if I see this price for a striker I know for sure he’s a big striker.”
The mild takes then turn to Chelsea, where Conte points out that while we all loved Chalobah for his potential and his connection to Chelsea, he simply cannot be compared to someone like Bakayoko at the moment. And above all, it’s this moment that counts.
BAKAYOKO >> CHALOBAH
“I think, honestly, at this moment there is a great difference between the two players. You are talking about one player who has played with Monaco, who has maybe 100 appearances for that club. He has played in the Champions League and has played regularly.”
“Try to understand the difference before you judge. People who do [judge], do not understand the difference.”
In a way, Conte’s shifting the goalposts a bit here. The issue isn’t that Bakayoko’s CV is much more impressive than Chalobah’s. The issue is that Bakayoko got his chance(s) at Monaco (he was there for three seasons, lest we forget) while Chalobah did not and the assumption is that if he did get the same opportunities, he’d develop along similar lines. Of course, if there is one thing we should’ve learned about youth development by now is that there are no guarantees, no straight lines, no universal blueprints. Some 18-year-olds live up to their promise and become world class. Most don’t. Monaco can afford to take the risk on the pitch that it takes to find that out. Chelsea cannot. (And that’s a directive from up on high; not necessarily from the coach, who’s thus mostly concerned about winning.)
“You have to take a decision and to understand what is best for the club. Sometimes young players lose their patience very quickly, a lot of time because of parents or the people around them.”
“Trust the club, work very hard because to play at this level you must be stronger — and very good. Sometimes young players think that they can play easily in the first team but that’s not true.”
Whether Conte’s directly talking about Chalobah’s patience here or not, there’s little doubt that Chelsea were hoping to continue relying on him as midfield backup option next season. But Chalobah chose Watford’s offer rather than Chelsea’s contract renewal. He just might develop into something world class at Watford, though it’s not like teams were breaking down the doors to get him.
“I repeat, now every single player wants to play regularly. They want to play in every game. But I have to pick 11 players. Not only me, every coach.”
TEAM >> INDIVIDUALS
Understandably, players are looking out for themselves first and foremost. Players are selfish. Conte knows; he was a player once, too.
“When you are a player, you are selfish. I was selfish. Sometimes I score a goal and we lose the game and I am happy. It’s a pity we lost but, hey, I played very well and I scored.”
“It is my job to help my players open their vision. Personal success if very important but most important is the team success.”
And the only way to achieve that in Conte’s eyes is for him to have total control in the dressing room. You might score 20+ goals, but if you’re causing anarchy, there is only one outcome.
“It is logical that when you must be tough, you must be tough. If you want an identity you need all players to go into your idea. Otherwise it is very difficult if I want to give the identity to the club and ask the No 10 to stay in his position and this No 10 is around the pitch, it is very difficult to give this identity. The coach becomes crazy . . . this is true.”
“The coach must be in total control of the dressing room. Otherwise there is anarchy. Yes, anarchy.”
“When I was a footballer, [Marcello] Lippi and [Giovanni] Trapattoni and [Carlo] Ancelotti and [Arrigo] Sacchi, my coaches were totally in control of the dressing room. Otherwise, you are preparing to die. ‘Morira’ [you will die]. If this doesn’t happen you are preparing yourself for death.”
“If you lose control, probably you will be sacked in one or two months. If you are lucky, three months.”