It's what everyone wants to know. Will Antonio Conte be staying or leaving? Sure, winning the FA Cup is wonderful — and it really is — but we’re all aware of what the "big" story is.
But can we put that aside for just a moment? Can we just relish the win over Manchester United, and our 8th FA Cup in all and first since 2012? It puts us third on the all-time winner’s list, equal with Tottenham and trailing Arsenal (13) and Manchester United (12.)
After an impotent outing against Huddersfield and scarcely trying in the season-ender at Newcastle, it was impossible to predict how much the players wanted to win this trophy. But as Conte notes, they came out fighting.
“I am very satisfied as today was very difficult in this moment to win the FA Cup against a really strong, great team in Manchester United. We must be pleased. It wasn’t easy but I am very happy for our fans and our players and they have deserved this win, to win an important trophy in this season that for sure was very difficult for many reasons.
“I predicted at the beginning of the season it would be difficult, but we came fifth, win the FA Cup and lost in the semi of the Carabao.
“To miss the Champions League is not good for a club like Chelsea. We must be honest to say this. Me the players. You have to know the real situation at the moment if this group of players did their best this season. If our fifth place was the position we deserved. But to win an important trophy like this showed a great commitment and desire of my players.”
The effort from the players was night-and-day compared to that dreadful Sunday at St. James’. They were physical, aggressive, stayed tight and always challenged for the ball. That’s what it looks like when the players care. We didn’t see enough of that this season. It’s why Conte takes satisfaction in the Cup win, but won’t say it salvages his season (because it doesn't really despite its prestige).
“No, but for sure this season when you are used to win every season, I have been used to that, this kind of season can try to create some problems yourself. When you have this type of season there are moments where you have a lot of questions for yourself. In this season, a difficult one, I showed that I am a serial winner, this is the truth. This gives me more satisfaction than the past.”
Serial winner. He said in in Friday’s press conference. He said it again on Saturday, not once but twice. Yes, we’ve reached the portion of this press conference where we turn from celebrating the win, to contemplating the future. Most immediately, the manager’s future.
By repeatedly calling himself a serial winner, it could be that Conte’s marketing himself for his next job; it could be that he’s defending his record, like Jose Mourinho is so fond of doing; or it could be that he’s lobbying Chelsea to keep him for the last year of his contract. Only he knows for sure.
“I have a contract and I am committed to this club. The speculation started after the first defeat to Burnley, but it has always been the same. A lot of speculation, every day in every press conference I say I am committed to this club, respect my contract and then, as you know very well, our job is not simple. I understand the club can make a decision, positive or negative, but I am the first to understand. I am the coach of a great and important club and it is right the club demand a lot.
“You have to see in this season if they have done the maximum or not. We this group of players we have. I have great respect for my club and they will make the best decision and I am the first to accept the decision. After these two seasons I will always love this colour, the fans and this club. If my future must be in a different way.”
He’s always acknowledged that the club has the power in the relationship and that football is a brutal business. He’s never been bitter about it.
Nor is he apologetic, however. If he goes, so be it. But if he stays, it will be on his own terms. He does not plan to change. He’s a serial winner, you see.
“I think after two years the club know me very well. And if they want to continue to work with me, they know very well. I can’t change. My way is always the same and I work to build a strong mentality with the players. I can’t change, I am this and my past speaks very clear as a manager and a player.
“I am a serial winner. I showed this in England after a tenth place and also today as we found the right way to win this trophy. I am very happy for the players and for our fans and at the same time I am happy for the club. The decision, I have brought two trophies in two seasons.”
As much as Chelsea seem to embrace being Team Turmoil, the trophies do keep rolling in. As Conte says, two seasons for him, two more pieces of hardware for some hard-working soul at the club to keep nice and shiny. Whether or not that’s enough to keep him employed... well, we’ll probably find out sometime soon. At least we were spared the unedifying scene inflicted on Louis van Gaal by Manchester United two years ago when, at this very same FA Cup winner’s press conference, reporters told him he’d just been sacked.
And so that’s it for Chelsea football this season, on the pitch at least. What we know, is that the next time we see the Blues will be on the 23rd of July, in Perth. What we don’t know, is who will be on the sideline.