CONTE MAGIC ENDS CHELSE A’S TITLE BLUES
JUST 10 months after arriving at a club ripped apart by feuds and rampant egos, Antonio Conte has healed the rifts so masterfully that Chelsea are the 2016-17 Premier League champions.
Conte and his players were wreathed in smiles and soaked in champagne after clinching the title with a 1-0 win at West Brom yesterday morning (AEST).
Yet when the Italian drove into Chelsea’s palatial training base in the leafy village of Cobham for the first time last July, he was in no mood to soak up the tranquil surroundings.
“At the start of the season it wasn’t easy. We had to solve a lot of problems,” he said.
Conte knew the depth of the problems lying in wait for him with a squad still in turmoil after the mutiny that cost Jose Mourinho his job and prompted a shocking slide down the table.
When club owner Roman Abramovich asked Conte to leave his role as Italy coach to sort out Chelsea’s sulking stars, many felt he was on a hiding to nothing.
But the 47-year-old jumped at the chance to see if the philosophy he had honed during a stellar managerial career, which included three Serie A titles with Juventus, could work outside his homeland.
Aware that the unhappiness of players like Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas had sowed the seeds of discontent at Chelsea, Conte hatched a plan to win over his collection of multimillionaire millennials.
Instead of treating them like naughty schoolboys, Conte promised they would find him honest and compassionate.
Crucially, the absence of European fixtures from Chelsea’s schedule afforded Conte time to drill his philosophy into his players, with double training sessions.
Conte’s players seized control of the title race by equalling a singleseason top-flight record with 13 successive victories.
“My biggest achievement was that the players gave me availability to work hard on the physical, tactical and video analysis aspects,” Conte said.
“First, you must find men and then good players. I found great men and then really good players.”
With Chelsea scoreless yesterday and looking like squandering the first of three opportunities to regain the trophy, Conte substituted star winger Hazard for Michy Batshuayi, who had just one goal to his name all season. Within six minutes, Batshuayi scored and that was enough. A gamble that had paid off again for Conte.
Chelsea’s Diego Costa and teammates celebrate winning the EPL title yesterday and (below right) Antonio Conte.