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Zola won’t give up on keeping Conte at Chelsea

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He’s a busy peacemaker

Chelsea Training and Press Conference Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Just as he was a uniquely talented player, Gianfranco Zola remains fairly unique among pundits these days in trying to still marriage-counsel Chelsea and Antonio Conte into repairing their fractured relationship. By all accounts, that may be a fruitless endeavor, but that’s not stopping our indefatigable hero just yet.

He was on TalkSport Tuesday morning, spreading his message of peace, love, and unity not for the first or the second time. Maybe third time is the charm?

“I really hope [Conte will] not [leave this summer], because I think he is an asset for the club. He’s a good coach, without doubt - he’s actually one of the best around.”

Conte can also be difficult to manage, of course, especially when it comes to his own expectations regarding the club’s transfer activities and all the other well documented gripes he’s had over the past season and a half.

Zola concedes that there are issues — he wouldn’t be talking about this situation if there weren’t, after all! — but doesn’t believe the relationship beyond repair or beyond it’s useful sell-by date just yet.

“At the moment there are certainly some problems.

“If the club and manager want to continue - and I think that will be good for the club - they should sort them [the problems] out because the competition out there is so incredible.

“There is no league in the world where you see teams get so much better every year - it’s so competitive off the pitch and on the pitch.”

-Gianfranco Zola; source: talkSport

FC Barcelona v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The old saw was that Roman Abramovich hired coaches to fire them. And it used to be true. But there’s a sense that he’s trying to change his pattern, to be more patient. Jose Mourinho was employed far longer the second time around than old Roman tolerated the first time around, for example. Mourinho’s dismal results in the third season of his comeback put Chelsea perilously close to the relegation zone and forced the club’s hand. It’s possible that had Conte resisted the urge to publicly criticize his board so often, things could have been worked out even if we missed Europe again.

But he didn’t resist, leading to views such as the one parroted by journalist Gabriele Marcotti last weekend: that Conte wants to leave but doesn’t want to quit, and Chelsea want him to go but don’t want to fire him. The payout of the final season of his contract, around £9.5 million, is the sticking point for both, apparently, though it’s just as likely that Conte’s competitive drive and pride (the job is far from done!) has something to say about all that as well.

Regardless, if there really is a stalemate (instead of a made decision waiting to be enacted) — and we must remember that these are all second-hand reports — then maybe there’s an opportunity to find a third way. Zola’s way. The way of peace and reconciliation. And then, a boffo summer transfer window, a happy Conte and we ride into the sunset laden down with trophies. Hey, a man’s allowed to dream, right?