Tuesday 27 June 2017

Conte shows who's boss as Terry's last stand falls flat

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: PA
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

The names are there: Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma and Nathan Ake. Next season, Andreas Christensen will return from loan, and the hope is to move 19-year-old Jake Clarke-Salter into the first-team squad.

And that is before Chelsea even consider signing any new defenders - which they will because manager Antonio Conte has made clear it remains a summer priority.

Against that stands John Terry. It is a lot of traffic for the 36-year-old to pass to win a place back in the Chelsea team. Or even earn a new contract.

Finally, belatedly, Chelsea have managed this situation in a way that does not make any kind of crisis or drama.

As recently as last January, Terry was opportunistically seizing the agenda and let it be known after the FA Cup tie against Milton Keynes Dons that he had not been offered a third one-year contract extension and expected to leave.

"It's not going to be a fairytale," he dramatically declared, knowing the full impact of those words at a club picking up the pieces post-Jose Mourinho and with no permanent manager. "I'm not going to retire at Chelsea."

Awful

Of course, Terry eventually gained another 12 months, which said as much about where the club were at with a new manager in Conte who no-one was sure of and an awful campaign behind them. It spoke of appeasing the fans and instability.

Fast-forward to the weekend just gone and another FA Cup tie, and Terry was again in Chelsea colours - until his 67th-minute sending-off in the victory over League One side Peterborough United.

It was only his eighth appearance in Chelsea's 24 matches this season and, far more significantly, his first since November. This is the season in which Chelsea have made sure that Terry is not a problem. Or rather, Conte has.

The Italian is creating an impressive body of work. Not just because his team are top of the Premier League but because this is Chelsea, a club where fractures are never too far from the surface and where the dressing room has been extremely powerful for a decade or more, with Terry at the centre of that.

Winning streaks of 13 matches help to empower any manager but, even so, Conte has asserted himself in a way that anyone with a grumble has nowhere to go.

The Italian is ultra-professional and inclusive, explains all his decisions with forensic detail, in a sense that takes the best of Mourinho's intensity and the best of Carlo Ancelotti's human touch and man-management.

Telegraph.co.uk

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