A few days ago I thought it would be nice to publish a long blog piece, analysing each of the main contenders for the Chelsea job, considering the pros and cons of their appointment, along with the likelihood of their joining. So I wrote a few words each evening, having researched each of the front runners until yesterday it was more or less finished. But now however, it seems those lovely, thoughtful 1500 words, are completely bloody useless, as within the last 24 hours, Europe’s major sports news networks seem to have reached the consensus, that the next permanent manager of Chelsea FC, will be almost certainly be Antonio Conte.
Disappointment over my wasted efforts was short lived though, and soon replaced by a good amount of optimism: I think this is an superb signing (if it is to happen) especially at this stage of this season – one of the initial concerns over the Italian’s candidacy was that he might not want to accept the role until after the European Championships this summer. Despite their being no obvious first choice, with a number of impressive alternatives to the Italy coach (most notably the Atletico manager, Diego Simeone) as well as a handful of intriguing outside possibilities (Jorge Sampaoli, Max Allegri, Mauricio Pochettino), my impression is that Conte was the outstanding choice, and that his signing represents fantastic news for the club. These are the four reasons why, upon reflection, why I think he is the best choice.
1) To begin with and most importantly of all, the reputation which he will bring to the club will be an invaluable asset during what will presumably be a summer of crucial and sizable investment. After such a poor league season the club currently stands at a crossroads. A good transfer window and a good start to next season could see us instantly propelled back to the top of the division (where we belong); if however, we should fail to improve the squad for a fourth consecutive window and begin slowly once again, we could find ourselves finishing comfortably outside the top four again and in a situation where another serious challenge for the Premier League looks potentially years away from happening.
Therefore, having a manager who can command the immediate attention and respect of potential transfer targets will be essential. And of course not only can Conte do just that, but can even inspire the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon to describe him as the best coach they have ever worked with; Carlos Tevez even once declared the Italian to be already on a level with Alex Ferguson, as a leader and as a ‘winner’. Having achieved so much already, and having never really failed in any of his jobs, he enjoys a uniquely unanimous acclaim in his country and his influence in the market for Serie A’s brightest young players (and in particular with a certain young French superstar) will hopefully help to facilitate a number of important and exciting signings this summer.
2) Almost equally importantly, I think Conte has already shown the ability in his career to be successful in a number of situations, with clubs of a varying size and stature, with very different squads and often with very meagre budgets to implement any significant changes. Whereas his rivals for the role, whilst they may have achieved spectacular things, (Simeone’s league win with Atletico; Sampaoli’s Copa America win with Chile) they have done so with a single minded commitment to an extreme style of play. And with this current Chelsea side not likely to fit in with Simeone’s narrow, counter attacking 4-4-2 system, nor with Sampaoli’s high pressing, ultra-aggressive 3-3-1-3, the proven practicality, as well as the flexibility of the Italian’s tactics make him perhaps the safest, as well the most ambitious pair hands with which to entrust the next few seasons.
3) What makes Conte’s career so attractive also, in particular his time at Juventus, is that not only was he able to reach record breaking heights, building and leading one the Serie A’s greatest ever sides, but he was also able to sustain it, not only for the three seasons he was there, but so that the club could continue to be successful after he had left. This ability to maintain such a profound motivation and winning culture among a group is perhaps the ultimate testament to a coach’s talent has a manager of his players (from a personal, more than a tactical) perspective. And it is something no successful manager has been able to do at Chelsea now for more than ten years. Conte will be the tenth manager to have worked for Chelsea under Roman Abramovich and he will be the fifth to have been hired, with the hope that he will be able to oversee a long successful period. History has taught every supporter of the club not to expect such things anymore, but of anyone who has had this expectation set before him, I think the Italian may just have the best possible chance of making it a reality.
4) Finally, after what must have been an unsettling, inconsistent season for the players, the kind perhaps to make some seriously consider their futures, Conte seems to be have the perfect character and temperament to restore the confidence and ambitions of any disillusioned squad members. Famously, the Italian trains his players extremely hard, invariably gets them into excellent shape and ensures they are disciplined, both physically and tactically. His obsessive attention to detail and passionate hatred of losing make him an intense character, but at the same time, he doesn’t (or at least, rarely does he) demonstrate the same unrestrained passion or emotion, which animates Simeone and Mourinho to often speak or behave in such an unhelpful manner. The calm serious with which he comes across will doubtless be another appealing factor. On paper, I think one would say the perfect manager for Chelsea right now would be one who could merge the hunger and the drive of Jose with the wisdom and the humility of Guus. And if Conte doesn’t do just that, I think he does it to the furthest extent of any feasible appointment.
His candidacy may not be perfect – never having achieved (or even ventured) outside of his home country, makes success in the Premier League (where the game is famously so different) far from a certainty; the fact he still only learning English may make things difficult for a while also. Regardless, I’m convinced this is exciting news. And I think it comes at an important time also, allowing as it does, optimism and excitement to grow for the future, at a time when the season has already begun to drag and with every league game feeling less and less important. The knowledge that despite the season’s problems we are still able to attract the most impressive and exciting names in the sport adds a distinctly rosier glow the club’s current situation and makes me feel this horrible campaign will soon be remembered as nothing more than an unfortunate and forgettable blip.