Roman Abramovich is closing in on a decade and a half as Chelsea owner. That makes him not only one of the most established club owners in the Premier League, but also one of the most successful. In fact, if Chelsea end this season without a trophy, as it’s looking likely, it will be only the 6th time in those 15 seasons that the club will have failed to add silverware to the trophy cabinet.
Only once has a head coach survived a trophyless season at Chelsea however, and that was Jose Mourinho Mk.II in 2013-14. Ranieri was sacked after 2003-04, Avram Grant left after 2007-08 (and Mourinho Mk.I was sacked earlier on), Ancelotti was sacked on the final day of 2010-11, and Mouirnho Mk.II met his end in 2015-16 before Hiddink saw out the season.
Now, Conte has publicly urged Abramovich to grant him similar leeway as was given to Mourinho in 2013-14, so that the club can continue to “build something important”, our new favorite phrase for this season.
“You continue to work with a manager or coach not because of what he achieves in one season but because you trust in him. Then you build something with him.
“But it doesn’t mean you have to win something, because that’s not simple. Not easy. Especially in England. The way I look at it, you can win [a trophy] but, at the same time, the club might not be happy to stay with you. In that case, [they might consider] it’s right to send the coach away. At the same time, you can trust in a coach and his work and continue with him even if you don’t win, and try and build something important.”
This is not the part that’s making headlines however. It’s the next part, where Conte’s choice of words (“stupid” vs. “intelligent”) is sure to generate some strong opinions and even stronger takes.
“There are two ways. There is a stupid way and an intelligent way. This is my opinion. At the same time, I have great respect for everyone’s opinion. If the club decides to send me away, I don’t know when, it’ll be because they’re not happy with my work. As you know very well, my contract expires in 2019. From my point of view, there is the will to stay and continue to work for this club.”
Word choice aside, what Conte’s saying is once again the cold, harsh truth. Of course, people don’t often like to hear the cold harsh truths, especially powerful people, which could explain why there may be some tension behind the scenes, but Conte isn’t one to sugarcoat such things.
If you’re of the more cynical disposition, you can surely look at all this and interpret it as Conte setting narrative around his eventual departure. I’m not really feeling that, but I can see that perspective as well.
What I am feeling is that if all these strong-headed leaders at the club can sit down, agree on a direction, a set of rules, and some best known methods, we could indeed build something important for the future. Chelsea can no longer simply buy up the best and most expensive players and manage them to titles. We now have to develop, whether from our own academy or by acquiring talented players who are just a step below finished products. Players like Morata and Bakayoko and Emerson, players who will greatly benefit from strong coaching, which someone like Conte can provide.
And what Conte’s saying will be true even if he does get sacked now, tomorrow, next week, or at the end of the season. Whoever comes in to replace him has to be of a similar profile. The days of Ancelotti massaging egos are long gone. The days of working hard, paying great attention, and playing with the utmost commitment are here to stay. These days been coming since AVB; there’s no avoiding them now.
But to truly make it work, we do have to present a unified front. It’s the only way to truly deal with all the internal and external pressures.
“We understand that, when you lose two games in a row, the situation is not simple. But, maybe, we are increasing the difficulty of this team.
“It is as if we are a side fighting in the relegation zone but we are actually meeting our expectations. I don’t think anyone trusted in us to win the title this season. If I remember, there were two teams everyone spoke about fighting for the title, both from Manchester.
“Also last season, we started behind [them]. For this reason, there are too many speculations around this club, around me, around this team. Maybe people have to find a bit more balance. But I understand that we have to live with this pressure, and it’s OK for me and my players.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Guardian
It’s okay, but it could be even better.