Conte points to Eme­nalo exit as a blow

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - DO­MINIC FI­FIELD

AN­TO­NIO Conte has said that the de­par­ture of Michael Eme­nalo as Chelsea’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor in the au­tumn was a key mo­ment in a dif­fi­cult cam­paign, as the Ital­ian pre­pares for what could be his fi­nal game in charge of the club.

Eme­nalo, one of Ro­man Abramovich’s most trusted lieu­tenants, ended a 10-year as­so­ci­a­tion with Chelsea in early Novem­ber de­spite the owner hav­ing at­tempted to per­suade him to stay on. The for­mer Nige­ria de­fender had cited a de­sire to spend more time with his young fam­ily, although, as it tran­spired, he would take up a sim­i­lar po­si­tion at Monaco a lit­tle over three weeks later.

Conte had ben­e­fited from Eme­nalo, a calm voice in an emo­tional board­room, as a con­duit be­tween coach­ing staff and club hi­er­ar­chy, and, while the head coach’s frus­tra­tions over re­cruit­ment pol­icy over the sum­mer had been per­ceived as crit­i­cisms of the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, the ten­sions had eased in their re­la­tion­ship by the time of his de­par­ture.

“To lose Michael, it was a big loss for us, yes,” said the Ital­ian, whose team travel to New­cas­tle to­day with only slim hopes of se­cur­ing a top-four fin­ish. “I think so, I think so. Also be­cause Michael did a great job for this club for many years.

“Last sea­son he helped me a lot dur­ing the sea­son. This sea­son, un­til he left, he helped me a lot. I re­mem­ber very well he left just af­ter the Manch­ester United game . . . For me, for sure, it was a big loss in Novem­ber.”

Chelsea, who spent around £50m in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow on three new play­ers, are still de­ter­min­ing whether or not to re­place Eme­nalo di­rectly or di­lute the role’s du­ties, many of which are now be­ing over­seen by the in­flu­en­tial di­rec­tor Marina Gra­novskaia. In­for­mal talks have taken place with some prospec­tive can­di­dates for the po­si­tion but the sit­u­a­tion will be for­mally ad­dressed only in the sum­mer.

Asked whether ap­point­ing a new tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor should be made a mat­ter of ur­gency, Conte said: “But this is not my de­ci­sion. As you know very well, my task is to work very hard. This is not my de­ci­sion. I’m not in a po­si­tion to say [whether an ex­pert in that field should be hired].”

Chelsea must win on Ty­ne­side and hope Liver­pool lose at home to Brighton if they are to qual­ify for next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League. Conte is ex­pected to de­part, re­gard­less, af­ter the team’s ap­pear­ance in the FA Cup fi­nal next Satur­day. The Ital­ian in­tends to re­turn to Mi­lan for An­drea Pirlo’s tes­ti­mo­nial game on May 21 hav­ing made clear he has not, as yet, been asked to at­tend any meet­ings with his club im­me­di­ately af­ter the con­clu­sion of the do­mes­tic sea­son.

Thibaut Cour­tois, ab­sent for Wed­nes­day’s 1-1 draw with Hud­der­s­field, is ex­pected to be fit. Olivier Giroud and Eden Haz­ard are among those likely to be re­stored to the start­ing line-up but de­fend­ers David Luiz (knee) and Ethan Am­padu (an­kle) are out.

New­cas­tle v Chelsea Sky Sports Pre­mier League, 3.0

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