Sunday 27 May 2018

Driven Conte almost quit over match-fixing scandal

Antonio Conte tries to get his point across to the Chelsea players during a training session in Los Angeles. Photo: Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Antonio Conte tries to get his point across to the Chelsea players during a training session in Los Angeles. Photo: Chelsea FC via Getty Images

John Percy

Antonio Conte has revealed that the match-fixing scandal in Italy that turned his life upside down could have made him quit football.

Conte, now among the latest additions to an all-star cast of Premier League managers, has begun the rebuilding job at Chelsea with his name finally cleared of the allegations that had tarnished his reputation for the past four years.

The former Italy coach was accused of failing to report an incident of attempted match-fixing while in charge of Serie B club Siena in 2011.

As Juventus coach he served a four-month ban at the end of 2012 and even when he returned to the dugout had to endure a further nightmare during an exhaustive investigation by the Italian authorities.

Finally, Conte's ordeal came to an end in May after he was cleared of any wrongdoing by an Italian court, enabling him to start work at Stamford Bridge with the cloud over his reputation removed.

For a manager who admits he is only at peace after victory, and has described defeat as "a state of virtual death", it was an experience Conte will struggle to forget.

"The story is a bad story for me and I don't accept this. I fought a lot against this story and I risked myself to go to have a judge," he said.


Yet during this time Conte never hid, enjoying more success with Juve and Italy while legal proceedings trundled on.

"I could have chosen another way - it was very easy for me to go to finish a problem and then pass the time, finished, no?" he claimed.

"In Italy when you have this type of story in the past five years … [wipes hands together] finished. No, no. I wanted to be judged.

"In my heart the story was very bad for me, my family. I saw in that moment a bad situation, many people who wrote bad things without knowing the reality.

"My players know me from Italy, all the people, all the managers. All the people know who Antonio Conte is. In this situation I want always to win, I work very hard to win."

You already get the sense that Conte could not be more motivated as he bids to revive Chelsea following a dismal defence of their Premier League title.

The Italian gave himself only a week off after the Azzurri's Euro 2016 campaign and has thrown himself into his new job, putting his new squad through relentless double training sessions during their tour of the United States.

When he spoke at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, his voice croaked as a result of all the instructions he had been shouting at his players.

Conte clearly means business and any players not in tune with his philosophy will be tossed aside. Diego Costa already appears on thin ice.

Finishing in the Premier League top four this season is the minimum target and alongside counterparts such as Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, the demonstrative Conte is certain to be compelling viewing this season. Fourth officials be warned.

"I find the peace in myself after the game when I win," he said. "For this reason I want to work very hard and find different solutions and to give options to my players. Only when I win am I relaxed.

"It's important when you lose because you learn. You try to see why you didn't win. You learn a lot in yourself but to win is beautiful.

"We know that when you have a season when you finish in 10th place [as Chelsea did in 2015-16] it is not good for all. It means there are problems.

"Now it is not important to say 'OK, we are ready to fight, we can come back very soon and win the title' - these are just words. It's important now to do facts, all together, because it is now not a good period for us."

Conte's appointment has already provided the spark required at Stamford Bridge, but there is more to his management style than passion, intensity and a ferocious work ethic. His methods have been the subject of a book in Italy and his insight into his strategy since taking charge at Chelsea is fascinating.

"I prefer to have breakfast together with the players and then the training session," he said.

"Then in the afternoon it is rest and time for the players; for me and my staff to study the opponents and study our training session to improve and to prepare. After the training session, video analysis is big for me.

"This is very important because through the video you can see very good things and the bad things and the possibility to show players how to improve. Not because I want to find blame, only to improve them. I think in my experience as a footballer this is very important.

"Sometimes 20-30 minutes of video is more important than three, four, five training sessions. It's very important to know when to push, when to put on a more relaxed training session, when to deliver rotation. When to put the pressure on and when to take it off."

Does he have a life away from football? Andrea Pirlo, who played for Conte at Juventus , once described him as a "beast with two wives" - Elisabetta, who will move into their London home in December with eight-year old daughter Vittoria, and football.

"I am a religious man (Catholic) and I like to go to church," Conte said. "Religion is an important part in myself and I think it helped me in different moments, good moments and bad moments.


"When I don't work, I like to stay with my family with my wife and daughter. I hope that in the future to give a brother to my daughter.

"I also have to improve my English a lot. When we go back to London, I will start taking lessons. I think it's very important to find the way to explain, to speak."

Conte celebrated his 47th birthday yesterday but the Premier League opener against West Ham United on August 15 is the only date he is focusing on.

Despite the debacle of last season, it would be foolish to write off Chelsea as title contenders. His achievements at Juventus, winning the scudetto three seasons running, demand respect and he is excited by the prospect of managing in England.

Chelsea have appointed a born winner, perhaps their new Special One. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Fans the real deal

A near-record crowd of 105,826 saw Real Madrid score three first-half goals and hang on for a 3-2 win against Chelsea in their friendly at Michigan Stadium.

The attendance was less than 4,000 shy of the United States record attendance for a soccer match - set two years ago at the same stadium in Ann Arbor when 109,318 watched Real Madrid and Manchester United square off.

The crowd turned up even though Real Madrid were without Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Brazilian left-back Marcelo picked up the slack for Real Madrid with goals in the 19th and 26th minutes before setting up Mariano to make it 3-0 on 37 minutes.

Chelsea substitute Eden Hazard scored twice in the last 10 minutes.

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