The hills are alive with the sounds of palpable discord once again, and it feels like home.
There’s minor variation from two years ago in that the discord seems to be between Coach and Board rather than Coach and Players, so while Mourinho accused his own players of betraying their (and his own) work, Conte’s “barbs” are generally aimed upwards at management, and usually through the lens of player recruitment and transfer market (in)activity. At least that’s what most papers would have us believe. I’m not sure I agree, though that matters not one bit.
Whether Conte’s factually right or wrong (does he have a say?), whether he’s conceptually right or wrong (should he have a say and how much weight should it carry?), whether he’s asked and not gotten (Drinkwater is not Nainggolan; Zappacosta is not Sandro; Barkley is not Alexis), whether he’s gotten and not asked (have a Batshuayi now scram), whether he’s asked and gotten (Kanté twin no.1), whether he’s gotten and asked (Kanté twin no.2), whether he tried for a power grab in the summer or not, whether Emenalo’s departure had a positive or negative effect, whether he does or doesn’t get along with Granovskaia or Abramovich or whomever, whether he’s actually aiming his press conference answers at the Board or simply answering questions the same exact way he’s been answering them for 12 months ... I’m finding it hard to truly care.
All of this has happened before and will happen again.
Managers come and go. Players come and go. The club, “your” club, whatever Chelsea means to you, stays.
Having said that, with Conte’s summer exit increasingly being reported as a self-fulfilling and very echoey prophecy — it’s going to happen this time, guys, we the media promise and pinky-swear, unlike the last two or three times he was about to leave or get sacked — there was one line amidst all the noise that did catch my eye in Miguel Delaney’s take on this for the Independent.
Conte has been publicly adamant that he won’t quit, only to conspicuously drop the words “if I stay” on Tuesday, but sources close to him have backed this. They feel that the only way the Italian would willingly walk would be if a legitimately good offer came in from abroad.
Delaney then name-drops PSG, Bayern, and Real Madrid but offers that there are no serious options at the moment.
Given Conte’s reputation of not staying too long at any one job and for complaining about squad size and quality at several of his previous stations, these stories were inevitable almost from the beginning of this tenure. Combine that with Chelsea’s reputation for sacking managers on a whim (nowadays not unique in football at all, but still readily associated with the club), and perhaps it was always going to end like this, especially after expectations were heightened with last season’s quite unexpected title win.
Similar stories about transfer power made the rounds in the summer, when Conte’s contract was the thing fanning the flames. Lo and behold, he’s still here. All he’s done since is talk about staying patient, working with the squad, looking for ways to improve, building for the future. And the occasional diatribe about transfers. Perhaps those latter bits are finally truly grating on the powers that be at the club, as many stories would have you believe. But like in the summer, if everybody can just bring themselves to behave adults and professionals, such differences can be worked out.
In football, every little story, every little gesture gets blown way out proportion. Sometimes that’s warranted, but most of the time, these are just normal everyday things that can be worked out because we’re not in the third-grade and Timmy didn’t just call you a doodyhead.
If there is truly irreparable palpable discord, then this is probably the beginning of the end. If there isn’t, then we just need to compromise and decide on a direction. Conte knew what (structure) he signed up to work under in 2016, and he needs to continue working in that. It would be ironic if he decided he couldn’t, since he’s the perfect type of coach to operate in such a situation — actually able to improve whatever players he’s given rather than just worry about keeping all the big egos, all the “juicy oranges”, to use the latest Mourinho-ism, happy.
As Delaney writes:
Given that Chelsea’s entire outlook is now to the long term so the club is never properly destabilised by the whims or results of any one managerial figure, they are perfectly justified in following their own club targets. Why subject the medium-term future of the club to any one manager, given their short-term future can be as uncertain as any player?
Sources say that, in the same way as Real Madrid have done, Chelsea want to prioritise the purchase of players within the 20-25 age bracket. One high-profile agent who has worked on deals with them has even doubted whether they will ever properly spend big again, bar in the most special of circumstances.
When you can spend as much as anyone in the game, the fundamentals of management aren’t quite as important, because money can help balance it.
When you don’t spend as much as those at the top, though, managing becomes all the more important because, well, you have to more effectively manage your resources. There’s just less scope for waste, less allowance for drop-offs.
Can Conte and Chelsea figure out a solution, some sort of amicable agreement? (Assuming that they actually need to, and this isn’t all just more media sensationalism with very little actual fire behind it.) We did so in the summer; we did so over Costa; we did so last season when things weren’t going well. Chelsea have shown support for Conte, to a reasonable extent, and Conte has repaid that with more than reasonable results. Those results have become less fantastic this season, but third place in the league, final four in the League Cup, and still alive in Champions League and the FA Cup, too, have the makings of a solid season, especially if we consider the continuing transition from older to younger players.
Should Chelsea spend more? Sure. Should Conte use the squad, the talent available to him better? Sure. Is any one side culpable more than the other? Sure. Point fingers as you will, if you must.
Are we able to deal with setbacks and a trophy-less season like mature adults? It’s only a basic requirement of the type of club we’ve been striving to become since Day 1 of the Abramovich era.
I’m ready to be surprised.
P.S.: Conte will be conducting his pre-match press conference in about 4 hours (13.15 GMT). That could be interesting (though based on prior evidence, probably not and everything will just get smoothed over).