This year, 62 goals scored. Last year, 85.
This year, 38 goals conceded. Last year, 33.
This year, 21 wins. Last year, 30.
This year, fifth place. Last year, the Premier League title.
Those are the facts, whatever the reasons behind them may be.
And so the near-constant chants of “Antonio, Antonio” have been replaced by near-constant vitriol. From hero to zero, in less than a year, and accused not caring, of not working, of sabotaging the team and himself, even.
“Last season we were heroes. This season we are... I don’t know what we are to people, but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”
Antonio Conte; source: Evening Standard
Football may be divided into winners and losers, but evaluating a season should not be done along such clear cut lines. Circumstance and context matters, or at least it should. Some people call this the process, and for Conte, the process was as good as we could make it this season.
He asked for 120 per cent at the start of the season. Did everyone give it their all and then some? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever they gave is what we got. This is how good we were this season. No better, no worse, and eventually we have to accept that. We cannot fix and improve and change things without first accepting where we are right now.
“I haven’t changed my commitment to the club. My commitment has always been the same. Maybe this season we worked even harder than last season. I don’t know if something has changed — last season I was a hero for Chelsea fans.
”Now that has changed. I don’t know why, but in my soul and my heart, I’m always a hero because I gave 120 per cent this season. It’s right to separate [work and silverware] because if you don’t win it means you didn’t work very hard.
“It means that in France, in Italy, in Germany... there is only one team that has worked hard or one manager who has worked hard. We must divide these two situations.
”As you know very well, our job is very difficult. Sometimes you can win but the club decides to sack you anyway. I’m very pleased about my work this season — I think I worked harder than last season.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Understanding the current situation would be just as important if this were last season. In fact, it would’ve been just as important last season. That we didn’t understand is a big reason why we are where we are. This of course is a bit of a theme at Chelsea; we only have to look at the last three times we’ve won the league and how the club failed to truly build upon those titles. Here lies Ancelotti 2011, Mourinho 2015, Conte 2017.
“Last season was a wonderful season because we did fantastic work with the players. An important success. You have to consider the way that you win: if you’re going at 300km/h or if you’re going at a normal velocity and don’t risk burning your engine.
“You must be very good to understand this. When you win, you must understand what is the best way to improve. Last season we won and this season we finished fifth.”
By definition, the responsibility for that rests with the manager. It’s part of his job description. But whether Conte stays or not, the understanding must be that the actual blame must be shared.
Win together, lose together was one of Conte’s big themes over the past two years. We’ve experienced plenty of both, and will get to experience one of them at least one more time today. Winning together is easy of course; losing together not at all.
But what’s at stake here is so much more than just the FA Cup. So much more than Conte himself, even. The team is in need of improvement, in need of a vision, in need of guidance. Conte could provide some of that, provided there is any common ground left with the powers that be. If not, he will get his marching orders (as expected), and whoever comes in next will be the next patsy to go through the spin ... assuming the boom-bust cycle does actually continue instead of being replaced by the steady dirge of the Europa League or worse.
“Last season we won, and we divided this big win with the players and with the club. Now, this season, we finished fifth. We have to play another final in the FA Cup, and we must divide the responsibility with the club, the manager and the players in the same way, and then to try and gain experience.
”If you are clever, if you are intelligent, you understand what is wrong and what is right. And you to try and improve.”
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN
Those words, like many he has spoken before them, imply that he wants to return and fix things next season. Cynics will say otherwise, but he might just genuinely believe and want that.
At this point, however, it very much looks like Roman Abramovich does not believe or want that, thus denying Antonio Conte the chance to help fix his own mistakes, to help fix the club’s mistakes, to help fix Chelsea.