Tuesday 20 August 2019

Players suffer with Conte in no mood to make friends

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: AP
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: AP

Matt Law

Antonio Conte has admitted he has no friends left in the Premier League as he prepares for the latest round of his rivalry with Jose Mourinho, but the Italian insists he still has a strong relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Conte could reunite Leicester City's title-winning engine room of Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante for the first time against Manchester United tomorrow, with the Frenchman expected to return from a hamstring injury he suffered on international duty.

Former Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri was close to Chelsea's head coach, but was sacked the season after Kante and Drinkwater had inspired the Foxes' incredible Premier League title success and Conte wants to avoid a similar fate.

Mourinho was sacked just seven months after leading Chelsea to the title for the third time over two spells as manager.

Since his first Stamford Bridge reign, only Mourinho himself has managed to spend more than two years in charge.

A defeat at the hands of Mourinho, following the Champions League thrashing to Roma, would prompt further speculation over whether Conte could survive his second season.

Mourinho and Conte have clashed on and off the pitch since the Portuguese first returned to Chelsea as United manager last season, and the Italian is not in the business of trying to forge relationships with his rivals.

Asked if he was friends with any current managers in the Premier League, Conte said: "Honestly, not now, no. Before, I had a really good relationship with Claudio Ranieri and after the awards for the best coach and the best player at Fifa, we went for a dinner with our wives.

"But I think it's very difficult to speak about 'friendship' with other coaches because then they become an opponent.

"You can have respect, for the job and the work, but to speak about friendship is difficult."

Conte's business-like approach also appears to apply to relations with his players, after Brazilian midfielder Willian suggested in an interview that the Blues boss remains a remote figure.

"Conte keeps himself apart from the squad and barely speaks to players off the pitch," said Willian. "He gives the instructions on the pitch and that is it."

Nevertheless, Conte is confident he still has the backing of Abramovich, who visited the club's training ground last Sunday after the victory over Bournemouth.

"My relationship (with Abramovich) is the same as last season," said Conte. "I don't see a difference. I know I have to do my job. I'm satisfied with what I'm doing this season and last season."

Conte hit out at Mourinho this season after the United manager accused his opponents of "crying" over injuries.

The pair first fell out during Chelsea's 4-0 hammering of United last season, when Mourinho reportedly accused the former Juventus boss of trying to humiliate him by whipping up the crowd.

"It's not important, the relationship between the coaches," said Conte. "You have to respect the job of the other coach and then stop. I have respect for his job. He must have respect for my job."

Mourinho reminded a section of Chelsea fans that he was still the club's most successful manager after they booed him during the FA Cup win over United in March.

But Conte insisted he was not driven by trying to break Mourinho's record of three titles, saying: "Every coach has to put himself in his club and to try to become a really important coach for his club.

"The most important thing is that the club can be happy, the fans can be happy and the players can be happy with your work.

"This must be our task. Then, if you are No 4, No 5, No 6, this is not important."

Conte read his Chelsea players the riot act on Thursday and warned there could be no repeat of their second-half surrender in Rome.

The Italian confirmed he had made his players "suffer" for the defeat and now wanted to see a response.

"The way I suffer after a defeat is not for all, because I suffer," said Conte.

"But those who know me know that, after this, I start stronger with more hunger, because I don't like to lose.

"I try also to transfer my suffering to my players. Sometimes it's important to speak, this is my task. To try to understand why we lost and then to find the right solution, to avoid other situations like this.

"A lot of times I've put my face in front (of the cameras). But I'm ready to do this if the players always show great commitment."

© Daily Telegraph


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