Antonio Conte is an honest man. He’s never been anything more, or anything less. There are very few things that rile him up as much as questioning his integrity, his commitment, his desire, qualities that he demands in his own players every day.
When he arrived two years ago, he talked about picking up the shattered pieces of what he would later call “The Mourinho Season”, building a small flame and hopefully stoking that into a blazing inferno. He talked about Chelsea’s rightful place in the Champions League (oops), he talked about the Premier League being a very hard competition and Chelsea not being one of the favorites, he talked about finding the right positions for the players available to him. Most of all, he talked about the work. That’s the only word he knew, work work work. He talked so much about the work, that it became a meme. But it worked! Sort of.
A bit later, after back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal, Conte talked about not having a “magic wand” to fix Chelsea’s problems. The only thing to do was to work, if we were to overcome the previous season’s 10th place finish. This season, that would be called a negative, defeatist message. Last season, that proved a catalyst for a club record win-streak and a Premier League title that surprised even Conte himself.
That magic wand is the only thing Conte has been wrong about so far in his Chelsea tenure. He predicted a tough season last year, and subsequently called the title a miracle. He predicted an even tougher season this year, dreaming of a title challenge but knowing the reality of the situation. He called for squad reinforcements last year and got two important pieces on the last day of the summer transfer window. He called for squad reinforcements this year, and got two barely useful pieces. He’s said basically the same things ever since he got here, but what was refreshing last year has turned sour for many rather quickly, perhaps unreasonably so.
We could go on, but perhaps we should save it for the elegy. Conte is, after all, as we’ve been told many many many many times, almost since the start of the season, a dead man walking. He’s denied that — at least as far as he can control his own destiny — almost as many times as he’s called for hard work, commitment, and paying great attention, but without success to match last season, his denials have not stuck. Now outside of the minimum requirement for any given season in the Abramovich Era (i.e. Champions League qualification), that prophecy just might come true.
Conte claims he will not go willingly. He’s not ready to give up. There is work to be done. He’s said this all along as well, contrary to media reports and pundit hot takes, but it seems like no one’s listening, and if they are, they are coming up with various cynical contortions to paint him in the worst light possible (he “wants” to get sacked for the severance instead of doing the “honorable” thing and resigning, for example). Even his so-called friends are doing him a disservice, as former Chelsea player-manager Gianluca Vialli proved last weekend.
”It is not true, Gianluca is a friend, but I am not talking with him for one year, maybe. We went once to dinner last season and then I stopped (speaking to him).
“With Gianluca, we played together for many years at Juventus, he was my captain, we won the Champions League together and I consider him a friend. All of my former team-mates, I consider them friends.
“I can be disappointed (with the comments) on one side, but I respect him because he is a journalist now for Sky and he is doing his job. He is trying to give his opinion. This is his opinion. It is not my opinion. The people who stay very close to me, they know very well my intentions – to stay, to stay here, to continue my job here. This is the truth. You will see.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph
Et tu, Gianluca?
Conte’s been battling this sort of nonsense all season, and it’s clearly worn on him as the months rolled along. But it did not affect him nearly as much as Chelsea’s on-pitch difficulties. Lest we forget, he lives and breathes and dies right alongside his players every day and every game. This is his life and he takes great pride in it. Lack of success hurts, just as it does for us, the fans. Perhaps even more so.
”They know I am trying to put all of myself to change this situation because I have great responsibility. I feel great responsibility for my work, for my family, for everything. I repeat, when I go to my house, it is not that I am relaxed but I know that I gave everything and I am giving everything for this club. Every day - 120 per cent.
”Sometimes it is very difficult to sleep with these types of problems. In every season for the final result you have to share the responsibility. With the club, with the coach, with the players. Whether you win or whether you lose, in every moment, you have to share the responsibility. It is impossible to find a fault in only one of these three parts.
”You have to share, you have to understand which are the reasons about this result. To understand which is the responsibility, the percentage of the responsibility between these three parts – club, coach and players. This is very easy.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Of course, fingers will be pointed and blame disproportionately assigned despite Conte’s urging to the contrary. Unfortunately, that’s part of the job description for a football manager or head coach; the buck stops with him, as the famous phrase goes, and he is the most easily movable, changeable, sackable part of the equation.
There’s a tiny chance that all this is an act from Conte, an even bigger cynical theater production than anything Mourinho could’ve ever come up with. The work, the commitment, the derision towards making choices based on financials ... all that is just an act and he’s probably out there match fixing, too.
Or, he is simply an honest man.
“I do not want to see one person try to give up.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Guardian