CONTE MAGIC ENDS CHELSE A’S TI­TLE BLUES

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE LON­DON

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.

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