So out of one, but still in another – following defeat at the Emirates, there was a hashtag trending on Twitter in the form of CONTE OUT; now having read some of the tweets from ‘supposed’ Chelsea fans, it really is worth asking the question, is this honestly where the modern day supporter is at, and is this the state of modern football right about now?
Antonio Conte led Chelsea to their fifth title in the Premier League era and the sixth in their history last season, the season being his first in England, taking over a team that had finished TENTH the season before and coming into a league to compete against ‘so-called’ super managers in Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger.
Conte also had the unenviable task of replacing, or at least trying, to replace some of the clubs most iconic legends – Didier Drogba had returned back to North America the season prior to the Italian’s arrival, Frank Lampard had departed and retired and John Terry, whilst being the upmost professional a player can be, his influence on the pitch had begun to become less influencial more evident in every passing match, and following defeat, ironically at the Emirates, his place in the team was even less assured, especially in the 3-4-3 system Conte implemented in the aftermath of the Arsenal defeat.
While Conte isn’t blameless in some of the key issues in his tenure at Stamford Bridge, the majority of his decision making has generally been to coin a phrase ‘on the money’. One of the issues that could have been handled a lot better, is the Diego Costa saga; there was hint of some underlying problems during a routine 3-0 home victory over Leicester where Conte and his striker appeared to have cross words, it all culminated before the return fixture at the King Power Stadium in January 2017; Costa’s head had been reportedly turned following reports of a mega deal on the table from China.
Costa, to his credit, reintegrated himself with the squad and helped lead the team to the title, what happened after defeat at Wembley in the cup final, isn’t perhaps one of Conte’s finest hours since taking up the reins at SW6; Conte sent his striker a text stating that he was ‘surplus to requirements’ at Stamford Bridge and that he was no longer part of the manager’s plans. The whole situation could, and should have been handled much better than it was, Diego Costa, like every employee in any organisation deserved the very least, a face to face discussion with his manager – had Conte consulted the board and the player, the whole drawn-out saga could have played out a lot better than it did; perhaps the whole situation is one that has not quite gone away.
The other ongoing issue is the ongoing transfer policies of the club, or lack of if you have been glued to Antonio Conte’s pre or post match press conferences; there have been reports of the board insisting that Conte toes the party line of not discussing the transfer policy with the media, but it is plain to see that Chelsea have not acted on the title winning season by adding to the quality of the squad, it can be argued that the additions of Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have been very useful additions, but Chelsea have offloaded some considerable talent to fund those deals, including the sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United – and with the building of the new stadium imminent, it would seem that this is the model that Chelsea will go down, and from the recent comments regarding the Alexis Sanchez move to Manchester United, it seems that Chelsea are no longer the club it was in 2004 in terms of spending and wages – Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain have taken over that mantle.
The club’s transfer policy isn’t just an Antonio Conte issue, it was one of the factors that led to the now infamous ‘eggs’ press conference under Jose Mourinho, having seen his side pipped to the title in 2007, Jose Mourinho expected the club to reinvest in the transfer market to re-establish themselves at the top of the English game, instead of high profile signings, Mourinho was asked to improve a squad and compete for the biggest trophies with summer signings such as Steve Sidwell, Tal Ben Haim and Claudi Pizarro, good players in their own right, but surely not players to match ambitions with clubs such as Chelsea.
For when the talk of managers talking down the club’s transfer policies it only goes one way, but perhaps for once it can go the other way, for a title-winning manager does at least deserve some time to right the wrongs of the present, and despite defeat at the Emirates, there still is a lot to play for from here until May.
It could also be argued that the investment in Chelsea’s famed youth academy hasn’t come to fruition just yet, but Antonio Conte will point to Andreas Christensen as an example of his work with the youngsters, and in the cup competitions Ethan Ampadu has made an impression whenever he has played; this, however, shouldn’t beat a stick to beat Conte with, no manager under Roman Abramovich has given the youngsters a considerable run in the team, the short term stakes in the modern game are far too high, but the youth team graduates who have been used have made an impression – even Sir Alex Ferguson had time to integrate the Class of ’92.
While it is the smallest minority creating CONTE OUT hashtags on social media, it is quite alarming that even the smallest minority would want to see the manager out the door after what went before last season.
A manager who galvanised a side low on confidence following a season of turmoil, a manager who blew away the rest in his first season in charge, a manager with a passion of the most ardent supporter in the Matthew Harding Stand, a manager led the team to a record 30 wins.
If Chelsea are to become a self sufficient model of success that bloods the very best talent alongside established players, then the time for stability is upon us, the club have a lot of positives in their aim to achieve the stability it seeks to achieve – trophy winning manager (check), established world class players (check) and the best pool of youth talent to select (check).
The club has all the elements it requires to become the envy of modern football, perhaps for once it can buck a trend that has seen high profile managers fall by the wayside before.