‘Last sea­son was tough for me but I de­cided to stay to fin­ish the job’

An­to­nio Conte ad­mits to John Percy in Bei­jing that ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign was dif­fi­cult for his fam­ily

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport -

It was dur­ing his fam­ily hol­i­day in Lig­uria, the coastal re­treat lo­cated in the north-west of Italy, when se­ri­ous doubts over An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea fu­ture first be­gan to emerge. Conte was a Pre­mier League cham­pion, revered for de­liv­er­ing his re­mit of a re­turn to Euro­pean foot­ball, but it was a pe­riod of in­tro­spec­tion as he spent his break snorkelling, swim­ming and con­sid­er­ing his next move.

He signed a new two-year con­tract last week, to avert any fears of a sur­prise de­par­ture, yet it has been far from a re­lax­ing sum­mer for Chelsea’s head coach.

There has been the es­ca­lat­ing row with want­away striker Diego Costa, the frus­tra­tion of miss­ing out on Romelu Lukaku to Manch­ester United, while there were even sug­ges­tions that Conte was seek­ing greater power over the club’s trans­fer pol­icy.

He has de­manded more sign­ings dur­ing Chelsea’s stay in Bei­jing and out­lined how he en­dured a “very tough” first sea­son in English foot­ball, away from wife Elis­a­betta and Vit­to­ria, his daugh­ter.

And when asked if he had ever con­tem­plated walk­ing away, Conte said: “My de­ci­sion was al­ways to stay with Chelsea and con­tinue this work. But you know very well that our job is not sim­ple and any­thing can hap­pen dur­ing our path and our ca­reer.

“It was a dif­fi­cult sea­son, a hard sea­son, a very tough sea­son for me and my staff. Now I have de­cided with the club to con­tinue our path. I spoke with the club and we find the right view about the fu­ture of this club.

“I’m happy with this new con­tract. The club recog­nised me and the job I did with the play­ers last sea­son. I thought this [twoyear con­tract] is the right way, to con­tinue to give me mo­ti­va­tion, to give the club mo­ti­va­tion.

“I don’t see any prob­lem about this – and we have all the time even­tu­ally to ex­tend this con­tract.”

In an­other clear sign of his com­mit­ment, Conte’s fam­ily will move to Lon­don this sum­mer while Chelsea are con­fi­dent of mak­ing fur­ther sign­ings be­fore the sea­son starts in three weeks. The cham­pi­ons have al­ready spent around £130mil­lion on record sign­ing Al­varo Mo­rata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and An­to­nio Rudi­ger, but Conte is de­ter­mined to build on his mem­o­rable first sea­son. This cam­paign will also see the re­turn of Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball to Stam­ford Bridge.

“We ar­rived from last sea­son, when our place was 10th, but Chelsea is a great team and must try every sea­son to fight un­til the end to win the com­pe­ti­tion,” he said.

“This sea­son the tar­get is the same but it won’t be easy be­cause you can see Man City, Man United, the other teams as well are try­ing to re­in­force them­selves and we are chang­ing a lot.

“We are buy­ing top play­ers be­cause we need to im­prove our squad, last sea­son we played reg­u­larly with only 13 play­ers. We are working to build some­thing im­por­tant for the fu­ture and the present.

“Now it’s right to start to work to­gether and it’s very im­por­tant to know that there is a lot of work to do.”

Conte has con­firmed that Gary Cahill will re­main as cap­tain while he has also re­vealed that An­dreas Chris­tensen is be­ing given a chance to stake a claim this sea­son.

Chris­tensen, the Den­mark in­ter­na­tional, has spent the last two sea­sons on loan at Borus­sia Mönchenglad­bach but has trav­elled to the Far East with the first-team squad.

His hopes of an op­por­tu­nity will have been en­hanced by the de­par­ture of for­mer cap­tain John Terry, who made the emo­tional de­ci­sion to leave Chelsea af­ter more than two decades to sign for As­ton Villa.

On and off the field, he will be missed by Conte. “John is a big loss. There was a pos­si­bil­ity for him to stay with us be­cause I was very happy to have an­other sea­son with John but he told me that he wanted to play reg­u­larly.

“He loves foot­ball, to en­joy train­ing ses­sions, to push. I told him ‘when you have this de­sire in your heart and your head, con­tinue to play. When you de­cide to stop to play, you fin­ish’.

“For this rea­son I have great re­spect for him. I think he de­cided to go to As­ton Villa to avoid play­ing Chelsea and we have to hope that we don’t meet in the FA Cup or League Cup.”

Chelsea con­tin­ued their prepa­ra­tions for the new sea­son with a con­vinc­ing 3-0 win against Arse­nal at Bei­jing’s Birds Nest Sta­dium yes­ter­day. Wil­lian struck first af­ter 40 min­utes be­fore Michy Bat­shuayi scored twice ei­ther side of half-time.

Blue sum­mer: An­to­nio Conte has been frus­trated with Chelsea’s deal­ings in the trans­fer mar­ket

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