Conte rides out hard times: I trust my work, my meth­ods

Chelsea have over­come a try­ing sum­mer and an open­ing-day de­feat, writes Ja­cob Stein­berg

The Observer - Sport - - SPORT | FOOTBALL | PREMIER LEAGUE -

When An­to­nio Conte said that a man­ager’s job is dif­fi­cult, for a brief mo­ment it felt nec­es­sary to make sure that the Ital­ian was not bend­ing the truth, given how easy he has made ev­ery­thing look at Chelsea. Yet even he is un­able to ig­nore mod­ern foot­ball’s cut-throat re­al­ity, es­pe­cially af­ter a week that be­gan with Crys­tal Palace land­ing another blow in the war on pa­tience by sack­ing Frank de Boer 77 days af­ter ap­point­ing him.

The way to sur­vive in such an un­for­giv­ing world, Conte be­lieves, is to keep the faith. “One ex­pe­ri­ence can be pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive,” he said. “But I don’t change my men­tal­ity. I don’t change my idea of foot­ball. This is for sure.”

It is al­most a year since Conte found him­self un­der in­tense pres­sure af­ter Chelsea im­ploded at Arse­nal, los­ing 3-0 as Me­sut Özil and Alexis Sánchez ran riot at the Emi­rates. His new side were eight points off first place af­ter six matches and one book­maker sus­pended bet­ting on his fu­ture. Conte took it all in his stride. “Hon­estly I wasn’t wor­ried,” he said. “I trust in my work. I trust my­self, in my meth­ods.”

Conte has not for­got­ten about the bet­ting com­pany. It was a triv­ial af­fair in the grand scheme of things, of course, but it was a test­ing time for the for­mer Ju­ven­tus man­ager and the way he laughed in the face of ad­ver­sity has come to de­fine him. In­stead of spark­ing a cri­sis the de­feat by Arse­nal brought out the best in Chelsea, who swept to the ti­tle af­ter the in­spired switch to a back three.

Ac­cord­ing to Conte, a man­ager must be happy when he goes home know­ing that “you have given 120%”. Yet he was not ex­actly drip­ping with pos­i­tiv­ity at the start of this sea­son. It was a try­ing sum­mer, dom­i­nated by sev­eral frus­tra­tions in the trans­fer mar­ket and the mad­den­ing Diego Costa saga, and Conte’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to avoid what he refers to as a “Mour­inho sea­son” looked un­der threat when the cham­pi­ons opened their ti­tle de­fence with a chaotic 3-2 de­feat by Burn­ley at Stam­ford Bridge, de­fend­ing atro­ciously and fin­ish­ing with nine men af­ter red cards to Gary Cahill and Cesc Fàbre­gas.

This af­ter­noon, how­ever, Chelsea host Arse­nal af­ter four con­sec­u­tive wins in all com­pe­ti­tions. New sign­ings are start­ing to set­tle. Cahill and Fàbre­gas are avail­able

‘Ex­pe­ri­ence can be pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive. But I don’t change my men­tal­ity or my idea of foot­ball. This is for sure’

again. Costa’s re­place­ment, Ál­varo Mo­rata, is scor­ing and Eden Haz­ard is back from in­jury. The at­mos­phere is calmer and Chelsea’s form is start­ing to feel omi­nous.

Conte, who has been bat­tling a sore throat this week, was not sur­prised by the re­ac­tion to the Burn­ley de­ba­cle. “Ev­ery coach must be used to hear these voices,” he said. “But ev­ery coach has to be fo­cused on the work, con­tinue to work ev­ery day. Only through work you can im­prove your team and stay for many years.”

How does he ig­nore the out­side noise? He thought back to his first job at Arezzo. The Serie B side sacked him af­ter three months. “They brought in Mau­r­izio Sarri and then they re­called me,” Conte said. “In that pe­riod the prob­lem wasn’t the coach.”

Conte is not daunted by hard work. He loves to im­prove his play­ers on the train­ing ground and plenty of Chelsea’s have ben­e­fited from his coach­ing. Tié­moué Bakayako, for in­stance, ar­rived from Monaco with a big rep­u­ta­tion but Conte be­lieves the 23-year-old mid­fielder, who scored his first goal in Tues­day’s 6-0 home win against Qarabag in the Cham­pi­ons League, can get bet­ter. “He’s work­ing very well and needs a bit more time than other play­ers to un­der­stand our style,” Conte said.

“If you are a mid­fielder, you need time to un­der­stand the right po­si­tion. We try to play with an iden­tity and, if you want to give an iden­tity to your team, ev­ery sin­gle player needs to know your idea. In the last 10 days he im­proved a lot in the tac­ti­cal as­pect, also in the phys­i­cal as­pect.”

With N’Golo Kanté cer­tain to start in mid­field, Conte will choose between Bakayoko and Fàbre­gas this af­ter­noon. He is im­pressed with Bakayoko’s phys­i­cal at­tributes but he is de­ter­mined to re­fine his abil­ity in pos­ses­sion.

“He’s very close to be­ing to­tally in­volved in our idea of foot­ball,” Conte said. “He can im­prove a lot with the ball. We are work­ing about this as­pect. We did the same with N’Golo when he ar­rived here. He was very good with­out the ball, to win the ball, to re­cover the ball. Now I think you can see a com­plete player with the ball, with­out the ball. We want to work in the same way with Baka.”

So far Conte’s play­ers have bought into his meth­ods, feed­ing off his en­thu­si­asm, find­ing the mo­ti­va­tion to go the ex­tra mile for their man­ager. None of it would be pos­si­ble if he did not be­lieve in him­self.

Mis­ter Re­silient: An­to­nio Conte says he was not wor­ried by Chelsea’s loss to Burn­ley and his side are in omi­nous form for the game against Arse­nal

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