Antonio Conte’s track record is all but proven, at least in Italy, and a positive Euro campaign could further cement his name amongst the current managerial greats, but sometimes it takes more than that to be successful under Roman Abramovich.
When Conte first took over at Juventus in 2011 the team was coming from two consecutive seventh place finishes, it is safe to say that he turned things around considerably. Nevertheless Antonio Conte’s controversies often made the headlines just as much as his team’s wins. Everything from his involvement in the Serie B match fixing scandal (when he was still managing Siena) to his short temper and Italian squad selections have always made him a divisive persona. One thing that is fairly certain is that Antonio Conte will bring a radical change to the Bridge, mainly in terms of mentality. Whether he manages to fulfil his three year contract or whether he gets sacked by November, Chelsea fans will realise very quickly that Conte is not a man of half measures. The sort of rage the Italian boss displays from the sidelines is spectacle in it’s own right, worthy of the greatest thrash metal acts. Motivational brilliance has been the key to his success thus far but ultimately could also make his appointment at Stamford Bridge a failure.
In his autobiography Pirlo (left) refers to Conte (right) as a ‘genius’.
Conte will hope to make the most of the transfer market to change the squad substantially. Aside from all the players Chelsea have been linked with, perhaps not enough considerations have been made regarding who might not be staying at the bridge under the new Italian boss. Chelsea’s dressing room has often been described as ‘toxic’ and there may be more than a few players who’s ethos and commitment does not match Conte’s expectations. In the first few months the Italian boss will have the task of identifying and selling the rotten apples without losing the dressing room. The language barrier and Conte’s relative lack of international reputation may make it difficult for him to gain the full respect of the Chelsea squad. This will be the biggest obstacle to his success in West London. He is unlikely to have the sort of impact the ever so likeable Claudio Ranieri had at Leicester and his tenure could be just as dismal as Jose Mourinho’s second season with the players turning against him and meagre results as an inevitable consequence.
For a Chelsea fan there are also the grounds to be optimistic about the new appointment. From a tactical standpoint Conte has always proven to be little short of a mastermind who plans every game with meticulous detail. If he does manage to inculcate the right tactical cohesion into his players then his tenure could be a success. Whether he settles for a 3-5-2, 4-4-2/4-2-4 or a 4-3-3 formation will depend on what he thinks of his squad, and he will not be afraid to adapt throughout the season as he did multiple times when managing Juventus. Considering that Eden Hazard and Willian are perhaps regarded as Chelsea’s two most technically gifted players, it is difficult to imagine Conte playing a formation devoid of attacking wingers. However regardless of the exact positions in which the duo will be deployed the Italian boss will expect just as much in terms of defensive sacrifice as in terms of skill. In fact under Conte nobody will be exempt from defensive duties. In the past he has never been particularly impressed by players with little sacrificial attitude. The likes of Milos Krasic, Fabio Grosso and Eljero Elia fell down the ranks quite rapidly once Conte was appointed at Juve (despite the latter of these being purchased to the manager’s request).
In his playing days Antonio Conte was a midfield powerhouse.
A player Conte seems to be quite fond of is Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, who’s return to the Bridge seems almost certain. Whilst many Chelsea fans might be rather sceptical of the Colombian’s talent, it must be mentioned that in his first stint at Chelsea he was hardly deployed in the ideal conditions. During his loan spell at Juventus the wing back has returned to the sort of form that left everyone spellbound in the last World Cup and could become a key player in Chelsea’s next league campaign. Whilst it seems unlikely that Conte will manage to convince any of his loyal Juventus players to join him at Chelsea, it is quite likely that he will try to strengthen a defensive line which conceded a shocking 53 goals in the last campaign by bringing in strong replacements for the likes of Ivanovic and John Terry.
Aside from his tactical expertise Antonio Conte has also often proven to be masterful in making the most out of players considered to be saturated and past their peak such as Andrea Pirlo and Andrea Barzagli. Hopefully he will also be capable of reviving the careers of players with a different forename, in particular a certain Cesc springs to mind. Furthermore Antonio Conte is the man responsible for the making of Paul Pogba. The Italian boss has always been willing to give young players chances. Not all young players can claim to be quite as gifted as Pogba, but the likes of Bertrand Traore, Zouma, Loftus Cheek and Kennedy will probably have the opportunity to earn Conte’s respect and a place in the team. That is provided that they don’t get sent on loan to Vitesse Arnhem.
Chelsea’s squad depth remains impressive which makes this year’s 10th place finish astounding and perplexing, yet the challenge to restore Chelsea as a powerful footballing force could be even more difficult than what he was called in to do at Juventus. The big names and egos that inhabit Chelsea football club could require a total dismantling before the reconstruction can begin. Whether or not a hot-head like Diego Costa will stay at Chelsea is ultimately down to how the player will react to Conte’s strict regime. The feeling is that more than a couple of Chelsea players didn’t quite keep their foot on the gas pedal following their 2014/15 triumph, and Conte could be just the right man to to reignite the hunger and passion which is the driving force of winning football. Of course Conte could also be the man to give the Chelsea dressing room it’s final blow and make a hot steamy mess of his own Stamford Bridge career.
By Francesco di Stani.