Chelsea await Conte rev­o­lu­tion

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

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.

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