Monday 18 December 2017

Conte draws on playing days to reboot Chelsea

Antonio Conte takes charge of Chelsea in the Premier League for the first time tonight against West Ham. Photo: Steve Paston/PA Wire.
Antonio Conte takes charge of Chelsea in the Premier League for the first time tonight against West Ham. Photo: Steve Paston/PA Wire.

Matt Law

Antonio Conte did not mention Jose Mourinho, but it was significant that the Italian highlighted an attribute Chelsea's former manager does not possess as he explained how he will attempt to turn the club's players back into champions.

Chelsea's head coach spent 13 years as a player at Juventus, winning five Serie A titles and the Champions League. He won 20 caps for Italy and was selected for the 1994 World Cup and 2000 Euros.

There were disappointments, too, as Conte and Juventus finished as runners-up in Serie A three times, while they were also afflicted by what the Italian press called 'the curse of the finals', losing Champions League deciders in 1997, 1998 and 2003. Italy were losing finalists in 1994 and 2000.

It is that experience of winning and losing, and the emotions and challenges that followed, that Conte believes puts him in a position to assess the individual needs of the Chelsea stars who suffered so much last season.

Mourinho was unable to get into the minds of his players as he tried the carrot, the stick and sometimes both approaches simultaneously.

The Special One has no top-level playing experience and could not manage his way out of it.

Ahead of his first league game in charge of Chelsea against West Ham tonight, Conte has been working around the clock to find out what his players need - physically and mentally.

Conte's efforts to find the right approaches with Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Oscar, Branislav Ivanovic and Thibaut Courtois will be key.

"I am trying to bring my principles and I know the players are the same as the last season, but I know two years ago they won the title," said Conte.

"So it is important to find the right balance. This team lost their confidence in the last year. The atmosphere can change, but my experience as a former player helps me understand the right way. You know if you go strong or soft.

"It is important that every manager must try to improve the player and the different aspects. My experience as a former player is important."

While N'Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi will be followed by more summer signings, it will be Hazard, Courtois and Costa who Conte will have to lean on heavily. The early signs are encouraging. All three were tipped to leave Stamford Bridge, but Conte appears to have convinced them he can help fulfil their ambitions.

Costa did not look desperate to get away as he meandered to his car dressed in flip-flops, shorts and sunglasses in Cobham on Friday.

He joked with Kante, rather than sulking over a move back to Atletico Madrid that never materialised.

The striker spent most of last season frustrated and angry, but Conte said: "I'm seeing a good attitude from Diego to work and improve in different situations. I think Diego can give a lot to this team.

"I like the spirit of Diego. He always shows a great passion. I am the same."

Conte's command of English is already excellent and he has told his Italian staff to speak English at the training ground and to the players.

"We must work hard to make sure Chelsea is one of the six, seven or eight teams that will fight to win the title," Conte added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Chelsea v West Ham, live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

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