In his post-match comments to Chelsea TV (viewable embedded above or directly on the Chelsea official Facebook page by clicking here), Antonio Conte called on his squad to respect the club and the fans in the remaining few matches of this season.
“The players must play like this in every game, not for me, but for the club. They must have great respect for the fans. They have to play for the club, for our fans, and to show great character like they did in this game. This is the best possible way for a player to show they are a fantastic professional.”
No more of the listless nonsense we’ve seen a few too many times this season, including the first half on Saturday against Southampton. Do it for them, for the fans, for the badge, if not for the head coach who may not be here in a month anyway.
While Conte made it repeatedly clear that he is of course first in line to take responsibility — that’s his job after all — at the end of the day, it’s the players who have to do the job on the pitch. That’s why Conte gave them credit for the near-historic comeback, and that’s why he’s urged them to continue in that vein for the rest of the season. There are five games left in the league and hopefully two more in the FA Cup.
“We have to try to finish the season in the best possible way, and in every game we have to show great enthusiasm, great patience, great character, great spirit and great desire to try to fight for this team and for our fans.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
This public call to action, perhaps one of the last few ever from the boss, can easily be misconstrued as Conte once again only on the lookout for himself — “Conte appeared to acknowledge his players are not interested in trying to save his reputation”, writes Matt Law in the Telegraph for example — but if the players weren’t doing just that, he wouldn’t have to call them out in the first place. In a way, it’s similar to one of last year’s themes, with Conte making it clear that he wasn’t here to make players happy; he was here to try to win, which is what should be making players happy.
As always, blame should be spread around, but it won’t be because that’s too complicated. The same players who won the league with “repetitive” and “boring” training sessions are now rebelling against them, supposedly? Winning makes everything easier of course, but it’s even easier to just pick a side and lob some Twitter-bombs.
And then the cycle starts anew.
But even if Conte’s gone this summer, his words will ring true. The players remain, as they always do (most of them anyway), and they will have to step up, just as they have been urged to do repeatedly (120 per cent and all those season-long themes).
It’s not about Conte’s reputation. He will have no trouble finding his next assignment if and when he leaves.
It’s about Chelsea Football Club. It’s about the fans.
As Gianfranco Zola famously said once, probably, “all of us — teams, directors, managers — are passing through a football club; supporters are there always, and they never forget”.
It’s just a bit unfortunate that the person who seems to understand (and embody) that the most is the one most likely first out the door.