Few coaches have made such a massive and lasting impact on Chelsea, and even the Premier League as a whole, especially in such a short time, as Antonio Conte did — a football revolution, if you will. His tenure may have been all too brief, but had more than enough drama on and off to pitch to sustain several soap operas.
And yet, despite all the extreme highs and extreme lows, and the shameful way he was sacked (eventually made whole through the courts), for which he never received any explanation from the club, he retains good memories of Chelsea — the fans, the players, and the owner himself — as he revealed in an exclusive interview with the Telegraph.
EXCLUSIVE: Antonio Conte's first interview on his two years at Chelsea #cfc— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) November 17, 2020
- The two signings he wanted to make Chelsea dominate
- Defending his role in the Diego Costa saga
- His relationship with Roman Abramovich
- His sacking
- His desire to return to England one day https://t.co/HqtA2WRsHU
It’s the first time Conte has really addressed any of these issues in public.
Feel free to read these quotes in his memorable cadence and accent, with great pay-shion and as you pay great attention!
“Stamford Bridge will always have a place in my heart. For sure. Because it was two years that I lived with a great intensity and I felt from the first day that the fans were with me in every moment.”
“To be the coach of Chelsea is not simple. You must live with great pressure, especially from the outside, but it was a pity to stop my coaching after only two seasons because I created a real link with the fans and with the players. Sometimes, you can agree because the results are negative and sometimes, you don’t understand why. But I think you must accept...”
After the blazing inferno of Conte’s first season, the second was always going to have a harder time in living up to expectations. When Conte came in, Chelsea had just finished tenth in The Season That Shall Not Be Named. A few short months later, we were an unstoppable machine, making the back-three popular again in England, going on to win a club-record 30 of 38 matches in the Premier League that season.
And Conte wasn’t just teaching the players and the fans, he found a receptive audience in the club owner as well!
“I’m happy that I left a legacy. I think football is always an evolution and it’s important for the coach to be ready to find new solutions and to see other coaches, and if they have a new idea to rob them!”
“I keep good memories with Chelsea, the club, with Mr Abramovich, who is a very passionate man for his football. It was incredible, especially in my first season, because he was very, very close to me, asking about my football and my ideas.
“Many times he came to the training ground to meet me and I remember he wanted to watch the video about our game and about our preparation — the way we wanted to face the opponent. I think in my career, he was one of the most passionate men about football and I keep good memories about him and about the club, an important club in the world.”
Perhaps Conte burned too brightly, both on the pitch with his tactics, on the training ground with his demands, on the sidelines with his “antics”, or behind the scenes with his relationships (Michael Emenalo’s departure that second season is not mentioned in this interview, but it was a key development as well).
So we are left to wonder what could have been, especially if Conte had gotten Romelu Lukaku instead of Álvaro Morata and Virgil van Dijk instead of Antonio Rüdiger (and if Nemanja Matić had agreed to stay instead of seeing Tiémoué Bakayoko as his usurper) — just as he (and we all) wanted.
“I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league. One player was Romelu Lukaku, the second player was Virgil van Dijk, and these two players were very, very close. We were in contact every day and I always said that with these two players we would improve my team by 30 per cent.
“I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years. It was a pity that it didn’t happen and Romelu is showing with Inter that my idea was right and also Van Dijk has shown with Liverpool that my idea was right for the club.”
Lukaku eventually escaped Manchester United, and has now scored 41 goals in 59 matches in all competitions for Conte at Inter Milan. And we of course know about Van Dijk’s quality, though we had known about it even back in his Celtic days, well before he decided to join Liverpool.
There is of course little use in wallowing in pity or nostalgia, or dredging up old points of contention like the whole Costa saga, for which Conte continues to blame Costa’s repeated and strong desires to leave the club. This has been his side of the story since the start (and probably the real story), even if the narrative often likes to push the opposite angle.
“First of all, I am a person that doesn’t want to speak badly about a situation with a player from a club that I trained. It’s right always to keep good memories and I prefer to keep good memories also about Diego Costa because we won together a league title in an incredible season.
“But, for sure, the truth, we know the truth. The player, his agent, the club and I. [And] the truth was only that the player wanted to leave many times to Atletico Madrid and during the season to go to China because he wanted the best contract.”
Conte is currently in his second season at Inter, after what was a somewhat disappointing and trophy-less first season back in Italy. (They did reach the Europa League final, only to lose to Sevilla on penalties.) He’s had a bit of a slow start to this season as well, with just three wins from the first seven games, but the league looks to be fairly open at the moment, so there’s plenty of time to recover their position.
However long his tenure there might last, Conte is hoping to return to England one day soon, for another go-around in the Premier League. Maybe not with Chelsea, or at least not right now — “I know they are doing a really good job because I continue to follow Chelsea. I am a fan [and] Lampard is the right coach for Chelsea” — but one day.
“For sure, in my future, I want to come back to England to have another experience because I enjoyed my stay there a lot and to breathe the atmosphere in England. For me, for my family, I’d like to one day come back to England because we lived an incredible experience and we want to continue to have another experience in England.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph
I, for one, would love to have Antonio back. He wouldn’t be the first coach to come back, and he wouldn’t even be the first to come back after an acrimonious end.
Not now. But one day.