Time heals all wounds. It may have been only three years since Michy Batshuayi scored the late winner at West Bromwich Albion to confirm Chelsea as the 2016-17 Premier League champions, but it feels like a lifetime ago.
And while Antonio Conte’s tenure at Chelsea would end up being defined by the relative struggles of that next season, not to mention the ugly drawn-out legal battle of his eventual departure, we can look back on our shared experiences with unbridled joy and appreciation. What Conte managed to do at Chelsea, especially that first season with the revolutionary 3-4-3 tactical switch, was nothing short of remarkable, the proverbial blazing inferno from a tiny fire.
Three years to the date from Michy’s winner and the subsequent celebrations at the Hawthorns, Conte joined Sky’s Football Daily virtual studios to reflect on his time at Chelsea.
“To be the manager of a top club is not easy. It’s not easy because when you are in a top club, the demand is very high and you must you must win if you want to to keep your job. [...] Chelsea is one of the best teams in England in the last 10-15 years [and] won a lot of trophies. It’s normal when you arrive in such an important club that the demand is very high.
“[But] my experience in Chelsea was amazing and I have great memories about the relationship with the players, with the fans and also with the club.”
Sacking managers is hardly a new thing at Chelsea, but Conte’s exit was perhaps the most acrimonious of the Roman Era. Not only was it unnecessarily drawn out — he prepared for and took the first couple days of pre-season training in 2018, even, before Maurizio Sarri’s official arrival — but the club stiffed him and his staff on their severance packages, which needed another year of legal battling to make whole.
Still, at least in public, Conte’s appearing to bury the hatchet now. Man like Antonio! The Honest One.
The undoubted high point of Conte’s tenure (and, for that matter, Michy Batshuayi’s) was that night in West Brom, when everything seemed right with the world. The celebrations dragged long into the wee hours, on the pitch, in the dressing room, and beyond.
“I remember I made a substitution and I decided to put Michy Batshuayi and he scored maybe the most important goal for us, because after that goal we started to celebrate. We understood it that we won the league. It was an incredible moment for all of us. [...] I was happy for Michy because he deserved to score this goal.”
“We started to celebrate on the pitch with our fans and then in the changing room we continued to celebrate [then] we arrived in London and with my staff we went to the restaurant to celebrate together. The title was an amazing moment for me, for my staff, for my players, and for the club also. [...] To win the title was incredible for all of us.”
Conte, who also spoke highly of John Terry’s professionalism and influence in that first season, and had some nice words to say about Frank Lampard’s first season as Chelsea head coach as well, is now back in Italy and looking to engineer something great from the ashes of what was once Internazionale.
(Incidentally, Lampard was part of Sky’s broadcast team on that day, and interviewed Conte on the pitch afterwards!)
It’s not going quite as well for Conte at Inter as that first season at Chelsea did, but that first season at Chelsea was miraculous in many ways.
And we’ll always have that in our memories.
“I had two amazing seasons with Chelsea and I have a lot of great memories. For sure one of the best memories that I bring in my heart is the relationship with the fans and the relationship that I created with my players. It was great. [Winning 30 games] showed what a great season we had [and] to win the trophy of best manager was another success that I bring in my heart.
“And yeah ... it was great.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Sky Sports
Indeed, it was.
Any excuse to post and rewatch this fantastic compilation video of the 2016-17 Premier League-winning Chelsea team is a good excuse.