Antonio Conte brought three things to the Premier League.
One, the three-man backline (this is a case of popularizing or bringing back, to be sure).
Two, a club record 13-game winning streak and most wins overall (30) ever in the Premier League.
And three, an animated sideline presence the likes of which the league has rarely seen.
The first is now old news — it worked so well that almost everyone has copied it or at least tried it. The second is going to be obliterated by rampant Manchester City this very season. But the third, the third is still uniquely his. It’s the source of joy to Chelsea fans and — at least to one easily-annoyed manager — the source of irritation and a feud.
On Friday it was amusing to watch Conte shut down the media when they pressed him on his bitter war of words with Jose Mourinho. Not once, not twice but three times he stonewalled the questions.
Like a kid with an itchy scab, reporters can’t leave a good story alone. When the cameras turned off, they picked at it again.
And this time they drew a thoughtful and revealing response from Conte. He delved into his personal history and the source of the fire that drives him.
“My first owner, when I started to play football, it was my father. He was the owner, the coach, the kitman, the groundsman. I spent my life from the start on the pitch following the team of my father. For this reason, I have to thank him for this passion, for the passion I have for this sport.”
It’s not an act. Last year, he revealed to much surprise — we are living in a selfie-culture after all — that he doesn’t actually like to watch any of his own antics back on video and if he does, he’s often embarrassed by them. But that hasn’t stopped him yet — because, again, it’s not an act; in fact, Conte says his intensity got him into trouble even as an assistant coach, when he forgot his place. No one likes a backseat driver, Antonio.
“I was an assistant coach. I remember, in some games, I shouted more than the coach. A lot of times, at the end of the games, I had to say sorry. But this is my way to live the game.”
And he claims to be oblivious to how other managers might respond to his entertaining outbursts.
“I don’t see what happens on the other bench, or what the other manager does. In that moment, I’m alone and there is the pitch, my players, the game. I don’t see what happens because my focus is only on the pitch. It’s great this, for me.”
After 18 months of near-constant sideline antics, Conte’s subdued presence in the recent back-to-back losses, especially during that awful 4-1 loss to Watford, have not gone unnoticed.
While Conte has always been more of a barometer than a cheerleader on the sideline, the drop-off was concerning nonetheless, especially after he himself said last year that if we ever see him “stay sitting”, then we should be worried because that means he has “finished his passion”.
Obviously it’s not such a cut-n-dried issue, but his mood caught the eye of his family as well, especially his father, all the way back in Italy, who will simply not stand for such defeatist nonsense.
“My father watched the game against Watford and phoned me up and said, ‘I didn’t see you with the right anger, with the right passion’. He told me that.
“My wife and my daughter? They start to be worried when they don’t see me very active. Because that means I’m not happy.”
Like Iron Man without his suit, like Green Lantern without his lamp, like Black Panther without the heart-shaped herb, Conte needs the source of his power to be the superhero head coach that he is. He needs his passione.
“Maybe in the future, when I become older, for sure, I have to try and stay more calm and live more relaxed the game. But I think, also, this is my strength, to stay on the touchline and push my players, to push myself.”
So there it is. The source of Conte’s energy is family ties. Not a bad place to get it. There are worse things a man could inherit from his father.
P.S.: This was a rare candid moment from Conte — and a rare interesting question leading into it — and he also reflected a bit on his habit of not sleeping after a loss. Just a bit of extra insight into the heart and mind of the Chelsea head coach.
“After the game, if we win, I think there is a great peace in myself. This is the moment that I find peace completely in my mind, in my body. I’m tired, but if we win, it’s the best moment for me. I enjoy that moment. I know that, probably, the time is two hours, three hours — especially if we play [every] three days — to enjoy this moment, and then I have to start preparing another game.
“When we lose, it’s not a good moment for me. I prefer to stay silent. After the game, it’s not good to speak. Especially if you are angry, it’s dangerous, dangerous. It’s important to calm yourself and take a day, two days to recover and then restart.”
-Antonio Conte; source: The Telegraph
Let’s hope there won’t be need for any such heat-of-the-moment comments after tonight’s match.