Antonio Conte can be the man to breathe life into Chelsea
Published 04/04/2016 | 13:26
On August 10, 2012, Antonio Conte was banned from all involvement with football for 10 months.
A weaker personality might have folded, retreated, taken the punishment on the chin and waited meekly for a modest opportunity to rebuild their career.
But not Conte. This was a man who had just guided Juventus to the Serie A title - after years of underachievement - at the first time of asking, and without losing a single game.
This was a man who would return from what ultimately proved to be a four-month ban for failure to report match-fixing to upgrade Juve year on year as they took a stranglehold on the Italian Scudetto that still refuses to relax.
This is the man Chelsea have chosen to drag them out of the doldrums kicking and screaming.
Conte, a brooding 46-year-old from Lecce, on the heel of the Italian peninsula, is not Jose Mourinho Mark II, but he shares enough of the Portuguese's character traits to beguile Blues owner Roman Abramovich.
He shares the same obsession with success, but not the same compulsion to antagonise. He is ferocious but not cruel, determined but flexible, and doggedly ambitious without being emulous.
And, most encouragingly for Blues fans, he is a coach who excels at getting the best out of the resources already at his disposal.
In Conte's preferred system a resolute defence - for Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci see Branislav Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma - is flanked by roving full-backs - Stephan Lichtsteiner becomes Cesar Azpilicueta - and a dynamic midfield.
The tactician who got career-best displays out of Andrea Pirlo in his twilight years while developing Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba into two of the world's most coveted players will have pass masters Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic to resculpt into an effective partnership at Stamford Bridge.
Under Conte's supervision, Carlos Tevez - a fading force at Manchester City - was transformed into the tormentor-in-chief of the Italian top flight, scoring 50 goals in two whirlwind seasons.
Could the departing Italy manager work that same magic on Diego Costa? The omens are good.
The Spain international has led Chelsea's bid to salvage a dismal season and a supportive arm around the shoulder from one of Europe's leading motivators could inspire him to greatness.
Tevez's devastating role as number 10 could even be offered to the enfeebled Eden Hazard. A coach as shrewd as Conte will not countenance allowing such a talent slip through his fingers without a fight.
As for possible signings, Bonucci should be top of Conte's shopping list. The indomitable centre-back, who once chased off an armed robber at a Ferrari dealership, is arguably the best in the business.
Where then, might Chelsea's new man fall short? His relationship with the media can be waspish, but his lack of fluency in the English language will likely keep him out of trouble in his formative months.
Despite all his achievements in Turin he left Juve under a bitter cloud of resentment, citing his frustration with a lack of action in the transfer market.
That will not pose a problem on King's Road, where Abramovich has entrusted Conte with restoring an Italian elegance that evokes the glory days of Gianfranco Zola, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo.