Conte calls for pa­tience as Chelsea’s mas­ter builder faces an­other mo­ment of truth

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football - By Ian Win­row

An­to­nio Conte be­lieves last sea­son’s Premier League ti­tle suc­cess – “a mir­a­cle” in the Ital­ian’s view – has earned him the right to over­see the ma­jor team re­build­ing work that he in­sists needs to be done at Stam­ford Bridge.

Conte’s po­si­tion at Chelsea has been

Old Traf­ford, un­usu­ally, was as calm as a mill pond. Barely a rip­ple of dis­con­tent. Too calm it seems for Jose Mour­inho. So, out of the blue, the Manch­ester United man­ager threw a cou­ple of rocks into the wa­ter.

It be­gan when he re­verted to safety-first tac­tics against Liver­pool, con­tin­ued when he ap­peared to court Paris St-Ger­main openly and cul­mi­nated with him pub­licly re­buk­ing his team for a woe­ful, pas­sion­less de­feat at Hud­der­s­field.

Now the wa­ters are choppy, and it al­most feels like the Por­tuguese prefers it that way. That a bit of con­tro­versy and edgi­ness keeps ev­ery­body more fo­cused.

Mour­inho does not do seren­ity. In­deed, even though the club are sec­ond in the Premier League, you can ex­pect him to wear a scowl when he emerges from the team bus to­day at Stam­ford Bridge. It has been like that for some time now.

Chelsea fans will prob­a­bly recog­nise the Spe­cial One’s modus operandi. The abil­ity, whether by de­sign or not, to turn a pic­nic into a drama.

In his last man­age­rial spell at Chelsea, the club de­scended from win­ning the 2015 Premier League into a toxic, rel­e­ga­tion-threat­ened sham­bles. Chelsea had no al­ter­na­tive but to end his ten­ure for a sec­ond time, cut­ting short his sec­ond spell at the club hours af­ter the staff Christ­mas lunch be­cause of “pal­pa­ble dis­cord with the play­ers”, ac­cord­ing to tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Michael Eme­nalo.

Manch­ester United seized the op­por­tu­nity to re­cruit a se­rial win­ner and, hope­fully, end the chaos at the club that fol­lowed Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s re­tire­ment.

Mour­inho should have been de­lighted to sign up for the job that he ap­peared to have cov­eted for so long. Far from it, judg­ing by his de­meanour ques­tioned all sea­son and the scru­tiny will in­ten­sify if the 3-0 mid­week Cham­pi­ons League loss at Roma is fol­lowed by a de­feat to Jose Mour­inho’s vis­it­ing Manch­ester United this af­ter­noon.

The head coach claims he is un­af­fected by the pres­sure, but says per­spec­tive and pa­tience are the qual­i­ties re­quired by club’s de­ci­sion-mak­ers. Conte has made it clear there is more Mour­inho even­tu­ally los­ing his cool af­ter the col­lapse at the John Smith’s Sta­dium.

Not that the play­ers did not de­serve to be openly crit­i­cised for a per­for­mance so lack­ing in spirit. How­ever, much of United’s sup­port have been brought up on a man­ager in Fer­gu­son who pro­tected his play­ers from public sham­ing.

The paint on the dress­ing room walls blis­tered af­ter his in­fa­mous ‘hairdryer’ rants but Fer­gu­son avoided crit­i­cis­ing his charges in public. In­stead the Scot di­verted the blame for lack­lus­tre per­for­mances. Of­ten, Fer­gu­son would turn the fo­cus on the per­for­mance of the ref­eree and not how bad United had been.

Mour­inho wears his heart on his sleeve in a dif­fer­ent way and a num­ber of play­ers, not least Luke Shaw, work to be done on strength­en­ing the squad and while he be­lieves he is the right man to do it, he ac­cepts oth­ers may not agree.

“Hon­estly, I think I earned my time here with the win of last sea­son,” he said. “I earned my time. I don’t like to ask for time. I like to tell the truth.

“It’s not sim­ple to re­peat and win. Above all here, in this league. It’s not sim­ple. You have to con­sider the real sit­u­a­tion that we are in now.

“We are try­ing to build some­thing im­por­tant. Now we are try­ing to put [in] fun­da­men­tals for this club. Don’t for­get that in the last four, five years we lost a lot of im­por­tant play­ers ... play­ers that wrote his­tory in this club.

“If we think, ‘I can click my fingers and we are ready to fight’, it’s not sim­ple. Last sea­son hap­pened – a mir­a­cle. It was a mir­a­cle be­cause we had the same play­ers who the sea­son be­fore fin­ished tenth.”

Mour­inho’s pres­ence in the op­po­si­tion dugout to­day will be a re­minder that ti­tle suc­cess comes with no guar­an­tee of job se­cu­rity, but Conte added: “I think the most im­por­tant thing is to try al­ways to tell the truth ... I’m a per­son who al­ways prefers to tell a bad truth than a good lie. In this way, I have the re­spect of the peo­ple.

“We are try­ing to build some­thing ... it’s im­por­tant to have pa­tience and then to have the time to do this. I un­der­stand it’s not for all to have pa­tience, but pa­tience is a big qual­ity. I have not a lot of pa­tience, hon­estly. But af­ter last sea­son ...I’m im­prov­ing a lot.”

Bat­tle of wits: Jose Mour­inho faces Chelsea ri­val An­to­nio Conte (right) to­day, with Manch­ester United’s tac­tics un­der scru­tiny

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