Chelsea await Conte revolution
LONDON — Antonio Conte’s final words in public as Italy coach were a description of his new job at Chelsea as “this great adventure”.
The 46-year-old will arrive at Stamford Bridge after taking a week off to ease the disappointment of the defeat by Germany on penalties in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals in Bordeaux on Saturday.
Conte’s tactical approach and animated demeanour have made him one of the significant figures of the tournament in France — so what can Chelsea and the Premier League expect next season?
Big personality Conte joins a stellar coaching cast list that has been assembled in the Premier League for the start of the new campaign, with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and Jurgen Klopp embarking on his first full season at Liverpool.
And Conte will certainly add to the cult of personality, as well as coaching acumen, when he starts his competitive Chelsea reign at home to West Ham United on 13 August.
Conte is a ball of fire in his technical area, a blur of perpetual motion mirroring his team’s style.
Not only does he provide flamboyant goal celebrations, like when he jumped on top of the dugout when Italy scored against Spain in their last-16 victory, he also delivers a highly watchable body language commentary on the game.
He was even caught on camera lashing the ball away when it landed at his feet after Italy had lost possession.
At one point during the loss to Germany, Conte marched along the length of his technical area in perfect time and tempo to Italy’s play. He sets himself up exactly in line with his back four — a job he may find more difficult in Stamford Bridge’s enclosed spaces.
Conte will be as involved in the game as his players. He gave an unsuspecting member of his support team a hefty shove during one exchange, planted a kiss on goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon before the penalty shootout and took his team to the dugout for a brief bonding session before they started that disappointing final phase.
There is a touch of vanity too, not just in what will become a familiar touchline strut, but also in his lavishly re-upholstered hairline.
In his final news conference there was only the slightest hint of the combustible personality the Premier League has been told to expect, but he did deliver a defiant admonishment to his critics in Italy as he prepared to take his leave for England.
“I have never felt supported by anyone,” he told the Italian media - not that he appears to need much support or comfort.
It will be an interesting, perhaps bumpy, ride ahead.
Conte has come a long way since being sacked as coach of Italian Serie B side Arezzo in October 2006.
He had already won five Serie A titles, the Champions League and the Uefa Cup as a combative midfield player with Juventus.
And he was able to rehabilitate his managerial career with Bari, Atalanta and Siena to such an extent he returned to Juve and won three successive Serie A titles.
Conte is admired and respected by figures at the very highest level, with former Italy defender Alessandro Costacurta saying: “The most important thing for me is the coach and for me he is the best coach in the world.”
He added: “He is a great guy, very passionate, he knows every quality of the players and of the team.
“For me he is the best motivator we have — I played with him in a lot of games in the national team; he is very meticulous but has great heart.”
And Italian Football Federation president Carlo Tavecchio, who Conte said was by his side throughout any criticism of his work, said: “Conte is a great man, a great coach who keeps his word.
“Unfortunately he is leaving, but this is an investment that has paid off in every sense.”
Conte’s dedication to fierce discipline and his determination to control every aspect of his players’ lives may come as a culture shock at Chelsea — especially the late-night phone calls.
Fabio Riva, a Turin-based journalist with Tuttosport, told BBC Sport before Satur- day’s quarter-final against Germany: “We say that he is a hammer with the players. In Italy he produced a document to say what kind of food the players could eat and what they could not.
“He would sometimes call the players at 11pm at night to tell them that ‘tomorrow we are training in the morning not in the evening’ — so the players can’t organise things. He wants them 100 percent committed and focused at all times.
“This will be very interesting because he has a particular approach to the work of the club. I am very curious to know if this maniacal approach will work. I am very curious to know if this will have a strong impact in the Premier League.”
Former Italy international and Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli, who was captain when Conte was at Juventus, said: “He’s the right guy in the right place. He’s a perfect fit for the club. The players are on the back of a disappointing season so they will have to shut up and listen to the manager.”
He added: “He is very passionate. Football is his life and therefore he wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t try to be someone else. After the game he is a very pleasant, quiet guy - but during the 90 minutes he wants to win.”
Conte himself even said: “There are situations in which you are the hammer and in which you are the anvil. We have to understand that the role of the technical staff is of the anvil.” In other words — Conte is in charge. Italy’s players freely admit Conte is a demanding but inspirational taskmaster, with journalist Riva saying: “He wants hard work and he wants to be involved in the whole life of the players. This means on the pitch, with a lot of work on the tactics, but also out of the pitch with his psychological approach.”
Former Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard is convinced the fans at Stamford Bridge will love their new leader.
“I’m looking at Conte and the way the Italians played and the passion he had,” said Lampard.
“He was almost like a player, directing his team and animated on the line. I enjoyed watching that and I’m not Italian — but if I was an Italian fan I’d be going ‘that man’s leading our country’ and I’d love to see a bit of that in the future for England.” And that is exactly what Chelsea fans will see next season.
Tactical acumen Conte’s expertise has been demonstrated by the manner in which he has taken a squad derided as the worst to leave Italy for a major tournament in 50 years to quarter-finalists, conquering Belgium and Spain along the way.
Italy employed a three at the back system to ruthless effect. Will he employ it at Chelsea and base it around John Terry, who has signed a new one-year deal at the club, alongside Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma?
In France he has used the Juventus trio, who he trusts implicitly, of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in front of their great team-mate for club and country, Gianluigi Buffon.
The success of Conte’s system is aided by the familiarity of that foursome.
Conte uses his wing-backs to control the flanks and has even used Southampton’s Graziano Pelle as an old-fashioned centreforward, holding up play to bring team-mates in as well as scoring against Belgium and Spain.
It is all created around the fearsome work ethic Conte demands and is fluid based around having, and not having, the ball.
He created what he called his “War Machine” behind closed doors at Montpellier’s Roland Gasset training ground, with heavy security, staff accompanied by guard dogs to keep his plans under wraps.
Chelsea will not fail through lack of attention to detail.
Costacurta explained: “The team was not so organised before. At the end of the year, they were not a unit, but after two or three training sessions the team improved.
“He has great determination and charisma. He always improves his knowledge about the team, about the players, he is always looking for something new, a tactical solution.”
Vialli is also confident Conte will adapt to his change of circumstances, saying: “He needs to adapt to a different culture. What works in Italy may not work in England but he’s a clever guy and he will change something to adapt to the English mentality if he needs to.”
Media and mind games
Conte will be in with the master of the art in Jose Mourinho at Manchester United but those who know him say he is not above using the media to make his point.
Riva, who observed Conte at close quarters for seven years, says: “The relationship with the media could be difficult because — and he was right of course — he wanted to concentrate totally on the work of the club so he sometimes thought they were a disturbance or a distraction.
“He also used the media to sometimes put pressure on the other team and take it off his own players.
“He might say the other team were favourites and then we know he would go into a room with his players and tell them they thought they could win because they were so strong.
“It is known as the mind games in England.”
So, will Conte be a success? One man who knows about success is Italy’s 1982 World Cup winner and iconic defender Giuseppe Bergomi.
He was at Italy’s defeat by Germany as a TV pundit and he told BBC Sport in Bordeaux: “It’s a great choice by Chelsea. He will bring his mentality to be well-organised and to fight — and you can be sure the team will play good football.
“If Chelsea can add a few of the players he wants then I am certain the team will play in a good way. The Premier League and England will enjoy him and his team.”
And Bergomi believes Conte will fit straight into the elite group of coaches now working in the Premier League.
“It is very exciting for him because he will be coming up against the greatest coaches in the world like Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and all the great trainers in the Premier League. It will be very important for him,” said Bergomi.
He added: “Mourinho and Guardiola have won championships in different leagues so that is another step for Antonio and Klopp. They still have to win different championships but they are both outstanding and are very close.
“Antonio will need to be given some time at Chelsea to organise the team and use his collaborators in the right way but I am sure if he has time he will do a great job.” — BBC
Chelsea manager antonio Conte.