Chelsea and Antonio Conte extremely relaxed on Inter Milan rumours despite 'missing family' comments
Antonio Conte may still be learning English but he has already more than mastered the translation of any necessary nuance to a sentence. Be it in terms of a description of something or avoiding definitive comment on an issue, few are better at it than the Chelsea manager.
Conte is excellent at delivering colourful single lines like how a coach is a “tailor” but, crucially, just as adept at avoiding any contentious lines that might make a back page. That applies to everything from controversy on the pitch or in the game in general, to any questions over the future of his players or - most relevantly on Friday - himself.
Take his response to inevitable questions about Italian reports regarding interest from Internazionale to join them in the summer. The one specific from Conte was that he hasn’t “personally” received an offer from the Serie A club, but it was all quite general beyond that, saying “you have to be ready for anything” as he also maintained he hopes to “stay and work a lot for this club”. There was also the obvious admission that he misses his family, who have stayed back in Italy, a line likely to be leapt on in some quarters.
“The only problem for me this season was the family missing me,” Conte admitted. “For sure, my family stayed in Italy. I'm working, and working for the future to try and bring them here and to stay together. Family is missing me, this is the truth.”
It is also the truth Chelsea are extremely relaxed about the Italian’s future and the Inter story. He is fully expected to stand by his Friday words and stay, has already started discussing summer targets and negotiations have already begun for a new and better-paying contract to likely be signed then. Just as relevantly, his family are set to move to London after May, once his daughter finishes an important academic year.
Some in Italy still maintain that, while Conte is obviously relaxed himself, he isn’t quite completely at ease. He has wanted more of his own signings in - such as another centre-half in January - and also wanted more members of staff rather than the mere three he has brought, both to strengthen his authority and act as a buffer in the dressing room for what has been seen in the past as a “political” squad.
Conte has banished any such potential problems by winning so many games at Chelsea and, really, it sums up how well this season has gone that the Inter story was such a talking point. Everything has been going so smoothly for the league leaders that there was nothing much to discuss in detail, nothing bigger to drown out such speculation.
Some sources close to Conte in Italy, however, say that it is precisely that smoothness that has actually played on his mind. They state he is conscious of what has happened to Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri on winning the title, and how quickly things can turn, as was effectively revealed with one line in his press conference: “You know, especially with things fresh from Ranieri, you have to be ready for anything.”
That is probably the true significance of the Inter link, rather than real possibility he could go there this summer. He is merely keeping things warm just in case things suddenly go cold in his own career in the future, as anyone in his position would do. It is hardly bad for any contract talks, either.
It is also in the interest of Inter, meanwhile, to start giving shows of their own strength. They are a club flush with big money again, and aiming for an amply-resourced resurgence, so need to start sending the message to the top names that they are willing and able to compete in every sense.
Highly relevant in all of this, meanwhile, is that Serie A still isn’t seen by the game’s top figures as a top league right now and probably won’t be without a series of such substantial statements. Inter need to overcome that perception to attract players and managers, so stories like this suit them, but Conte has no real need or interest to go back to Italy right now.
He rightfully sees himself as one of the best in the world, and will obviously stay at the very elite end of the game as long as things are going well. There’s no way he’d drop down.
Right now, Chelsea are the elite end. That is highly likely to stay the case for the summer and beyond, especially if Conte continues to perform so well. No nuance is required for that.