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Conte responds to criticisms about training sessions, transfer complaints

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It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

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Chelsea Training and Press Conference Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The battle to set the narrative and have the final word in the supposed conflict between Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte and the Chelsea boardroom (read: Marina Granovskaia) is now in full flow as we approach the final days, week, months of the Antonio Conte era. Of course that in itself is buying into a certain narrative, that of Conte not lasting beyond the summer, even if he does recover in some spectacular style from the current malaise affecting the squad.

In any case, in the Sunday broadsheets portion of Friday’s press conference, Conte addressed a couple recent criticism that have been leveled at his tenure, including the rather extraordinary hit piece from one of the club’s favored journalists, Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail. Friend of the blog @sidcelery has done a pretty good takedown of that article that’s well worth a read, but Conte also addressed some specific topics after they were put to him on Friday.

One of the biggest claims in that Mail piece was that Chelsea players are rebelling against Conte’s training methods, finding them boring and repetitive and simply too much and so on and so forth. These are claims we heard at the very beginning of last season as well, and with Conte putting in plenty of work on the training ground, in a way they were understandable. Such stories died away as Chelsea kept winning, but with the wins drying up, the complains are back.

Of course, in Conte’s world, training isn’t the part where players have fun. Training is the work and the work is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

“I think that, usually when you work, you don’t smile. Especially if you work hard. It’s very difficult to smile.

“But, at the same time, you understand that only through work can you reach a fantastic target like last season. Last season, our work allowed us to reach an incredible target.

“Now it’s very difficult to describe my sessions in training. For sure, when you play every three days, it’s impossible to work on the physical aspects. This season, we are not working on this aspect. But, if I have time to work with the players and you have the whole week, and you try to start the week with physical session. Then, in midweek, I start to go on the tactical aspect and prepare the game.”

Conte had a rare full week to prepare for tonight’s game, though he did also give the players two extra days off to help recover them physically and mentally as well.

But win or lose, the task for the head coach will remain unchanged. His remit from day one was to improve the players, to return Chelsea to the Champions League and perhaps stoke any flickering flames into a blazing inferno. In a way, perhaps he did that a bit too well, raising expectations for the second season that were not quite realistic given how the transfer market in general evolved over the summer.

“I don’t know [if anyone could’ve done a better job]. Usually? Usually in my experience, I think I reached the best results possible with the players that I have to work with.

“I think that I’m the type of coach who, if I have a player who is six, I bring him to an eight. If I have a player who is eight, I take him to 10. I’m this type of coach.

“My task is to try and improve every single players, in every aspect. About mentality also. About the desire, the will to fight, and the tactical aspects. Yes. My task is this. For this, I’m very good.”

Conte’s results, especially in terms of winning four straight domestic league titles with Juventus and Chelsea combined, speak for themselves and underline the confidence he has in his own abilities. In fact, he laughingly added, maybe he’s too good at this, thus enabling his own clubs to go for certain transfer targets over others, much to his own chagrin.

“I think I’m a bit of a disaster to convince the club to buy the players. I think in this aspect I can improve a lot. I have to learn a lot from the other coaches, the other managers, in that aspect. I can learn a lot in that aspect. I have to speak more with the managers who are very, very good to persuade their clubs to spend money and buy top players.”

“You (the journalist asking the question) are not the first person to suggest [that maybeI should stop improving the players so much]. Not the first person to tell me this.”

Gosh, don’t you just hate it when you’re too good at something!?

Regardless of how jokingly Conte meant all that, there’s probably some truth in it, at least as far as he’s concerned. Then again, almost no coach in the world gets every transfer target his little heart desires, so just as Chelsea and the fans shouldn’t have unreasonable expectations of Conte, Conte shouldn’t have unreasonable expectations of his employers. As ever, it’s a two-way street and the only way forward is compromise.

Is compromise still possible? Certainly through the end of the season, results willing, it should be. At the end of the day, running a football club, both from a technical and a business perspective is a something that has to be done in a professional way and a professional setting, with personal issues or differences dealt with as they would be in any other line of work.

Can Conte make it into a third season, something that hasn’t been afforded to any manager not named José Mourinho by Roman Abramovich? That’s not looking likely unfortunately, though, to borrow a favorite phrase of many footballers, you never know in football. Former Chelsea title winner Carlo Ancelotti is another name frequently mentioned in connection with Chelsea, and since neither of them are called José Mourinho, Conte has great respect for them both.

“Yes, yes, I know him. When I was the coach of Juventus, he was Roma’s coach. Yes. I have spoken with him. We played against each other, and he’s a really good person. I have great admiration for Luis Enrique and he is a fantastic coach. He reached his targets with Barcelona and, also with Roma, you could see a well organised team. I can speak about him very well, as a person and a coach.”

“At the start [of all these rumors], you started to speak about Carlo Ancelotti. He is my friend. We do this job, and our job is not ‘difficult’, but you must be open and understand the situation can change.

“A club can take different decisions. It’s the same for me. But, I repeat, I’m not jealous or envious of other managers. Everyone knows his job, his work. I have, usually, a great respect.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph

Note the “usually”. That’s worth a chuckle.

Hopefully we’ll all be smiling later today after Chelsea put a half dozen past West Brom.