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Conte reassures that Chelsea do in fact have a plan regarding player transfers

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Dispensing quickly with the formalities of asking him about that game itself, about any tactical and personnel decisions that may or may not have been made, the post-match questions directed towards Antonio Conte inevitably turned into ones regarding Chelsea’s transfer activities, both in January and in general.

While Conte was tight-lipped over anything specific regarding Dzeko or anyone else (as usual), he did deem it worthwhile to address more general questions about whether Chelsea need to reinforce the team still and what his specific role in all this may or may not be.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention to the actual quotes over the past many months, the answers should not surprise you.

Conte’s main remit is to coach and improve the players. Transfers are the responsibility of the club. Conte gives his input, perhaps even a list of targets or types of players, but it’s up to the club’s football board to go out an acquire these players. They don’t always succeed and not all targets are realistic. This has been the situation ever since Conte started the job and has been the situation for about the last decade or so. (This shift in who holds the transfer power is one of the biggest changes at Chelsea in recent time, as Neil Barnett reflected on as well in the latest episode of the The Chelsea Podcast, which you should listen to.)

But Conte’s latest answers are being played up as extra combative in service of the narrative gods. Matt Law puts the Chelsea boss on a “collision course” with the board, for example, in a most boring take heard umpteen times since the summer alone. Here’s Sky stirring the pot, too.

That frustration and collision course seems completely at odds with Chelsea’s pursuit of the likes of Edin Dzeko, Fernando Llorente (in the summer), Andy Carroll, etc. By all appearances, these are exactly the sort of signings that Conte may have put on a proverbial wishlist and now the club have gone out to try to secure them. And this isn’t a new thing either. Conte made it perfectly clear after yesterday’s loss, that one game, however painful, does not make a transfer strategy.

“But it is not right to take only one game to make a decision to understand. There is a programme and a plan. It’s wrong we have to make decisions only on one game. The situation has always been the same since the summer. I continue to work and I’m very happy with my players.

”I continue to give everything for the club and the club makes the best decisions for the team.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Goal

Conte has also spoken many times about the realities of the market, and while those have generally been reported as him complaining some more to fit that narrative, the things he’s been saying — Chelsea can’t compete with the Manchesters and PSGs of the world anymore (see: Alexis to United; City buying all the wingbacks); Chelsea need make smart(er) signings, etc — are nothing if not the cold hard truth.

That’s not to say that Conte doesn’t complain. All managers complain and look for excuses. Some more often than others, but they all do it. Conte complaining about Barkley being his one attacking option on the bench is partly on him, for example, regardless of how much he might not trust Batshuayi or Musonda or whoever. It’s partly on the Board for not getting “better” players; it’s partly on the players for not “convincing” the coach; it’s partly on the coach for not using his squad smarter. As ever, the situation is not clear-cut black and white, even if it’s always easier to just pick a side and point the finger.

Conte has talked many times about working together with the Board to set a direction, both short-term and long-term, and about having a good relationship with them. Things of course can change, and frustrations can bubble to the surface, especially when results don’t go our way.

“The club decide our transfer market. As I said before my task is to improve the team, my players, to make the best decision for the game and rotate and find the right balance in every game.

”At the same time my task is to try to take the best of my players. But in the transfer market, from the summer there is the club and they decide for every single player that comes here.”

[...]

“I think that there are different situations. Sometimes you can have an impact on this, sometimes you can’t have an impact on this. My first task is to do my job and be a coach and improve my players. For sure I don’t have a big impact on the transfer market.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Football.London

We can choose to believe or not believe Conte’s claims of not having a big impact on Chelsea’s transfer activities, perhaps after considering whether he means that in a very strict executive sense or in a more general consultative sense. All evidence points to the latter being very much the case of how Chelsea work behind the scenes, even if the former is how business must be conducted in modern football.

As in the summer, for these issues to actually devolve into serious conflicts between two halves of the football club, would require us to believe the general media spin that all involved are operating on a petty third-grade level. Presumably they are not, though they can certainly be stubborn enough for it.

But if there is any actual confusion on either Conte’s or the Board’s part, then that’s what needs to be cleared up. Whether that needs something as dramatic as a “collision course”, so be it. But we must figure out a direction and we must figure it out soon.

Is spending big on 31-year-olds what we’re doing now? Under Mourinho we at least spent big on 27-year-olds, though I suppose that’s where the market inflation has priced us out. Or are we continuing the more Emenalo-esque policy of buying promising talent and growing them into our very own? The latter is harder, less obvious, more painful, and more fraught with uncertainties and dangers (both real in terms of results, and constructed in terms of pressures, etc). It also requires everyone to stay cool when things go slightly awry for a moment.

So, everybody just needs to take a chill pill and relax for a minute. This season won’t be as amazing as last season, and that’s okay. Let’s not burn it all down just because of that. There are many great pieces in place already, including Conte himself (if he wants to stay and the Board want him to stay), Hazard and Courtois presuming they sign new contracts, Kanté, Christensen, Bakayoko, Morata, and tons of talent in the Academy or out on loan. That’s where we build for the future.

Conte says Chelsea have a plan. We must not lose sight of it.