Friday 23 February 2018

John Giles: Antonio Conte has a crisis on his hands - and logically, it can only end one way

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
John Giles

John Giles

If I thought there was any point, I would love to sit for an hour with Roman Abramovich and talk about football with him. He wouldn’t like what I’d have to say but it would be worth his while.

Men like Abramovich don’t have to listen. He doesn’t care what I or anyone else think about how he is running his football club. Billionaires have enough money to make their word law and advice from anyone who doesn’t follow the script is rarely welcome.

Antonio Conte and his players are now in exactly the same boat Jose Mourinho was in two seasons ago – title winners at a club where winning guarantees nothing.

Abramovich insists on interfering and will never stop. His ego won’t allow it

Chelsea’s collapse against a Burnley team well served by a clutch of Irish lads demonstrated in 90 minutes what took a few months to unfold when Abramovich meddled with Mourinho’s transfer business in the summer after the 2014/15 title win.

Back then, Mourinho unravelled in front of our eyes and the players downed tools, eventually becoming a leaderless rabble until Guus Hiddink restored some order.

The circumstances are different here because Mourinho alienated his players along with everyone else and any sympathy he might have gained because of Abramovich’s interference evaporated.

There is no sign that Conte is taking his frustrations out on players but it is very clear that the headlines surrounding him during the summer have unsettled his squad and instead of starting the new season with the bit between their teeth and ready to fight and scrap to defend their title, they rolled over against Burnley.

Logically, this can only end one way. Conte is a proud man at the top of his profession. Unlike Mourinho, he came to Stamford Bridge with no baggage.

He would be an exceptional candidate for any job in football and knows that Chelsea is only one chapter in what I’m sure will be a great career in management.

He has a crisis on his hands now which is not of his own making and one which there is no easy way to resolve.

Abramovich sold Nemanja Matic out from under him and after his players lost the plot against Burnley, his weekend went from bad to worse when he had to watch a key man in Chelsea’s title win making his competitive debut at Old Trafford.

Matic was involved in everything against a very poor West Ham team and could hardly have had a better introduction to his new fans.

He’s a big signing for Mourinho who got everything he wished for from the opening weekend, including a deadly double from Romelu Lukaku.

He has a distance to travel to restore United to the level Alex Ferguson enjoyed for so long and may never reach that high but he has certainly given the club an injection of confidence.

I was quite surprised by Spurs’ confident and comfortable dismissal of Newcastle and have to admit, I may have been a bit premature in my assessment of Daniel Levy’s transfer strategy.

When I read about his salary cap and saw that Spurs had signed nobody this summer, I thought Levy’s talk about building from within was just a bit of a smoke screen for the fact that the club is financially stretched by their stadium redevelopment.

But then I saw a young lad named Kyle Walker-Peters and that gave me pause for thought. Maybe there’s more where he came from.

Mauricio Pochettino built a reputation at Southampton on young lads promoted from the club’s academy and while I’m sure he would have wanted two or three top quality signings in the summer, if there are other talented young lads like Walker-Peters, maybe there is more to Levy’s strategy than meets the eye.

It was a very encouraging opening win for Spurs fans who must have been unsettled by Danny Rose’s public call for pay parity with other big clubs and wondered whether morale would suffer.

No problems with morale for Pep Guardiola who went about taking his first three points of the new season in an efficient way against Brighton and seems to be foot-perfect so far while his rivals struggle.

Arsene Wenger has changed not a thing about his approach and shares a disinterest in defending with Jurgen Klopp, which will produce results like the 4-3 win over Leicester for the Gunners or the 3-3 draw for Liverpool at Watford all season long.

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