Friday 23 August 2019

John Giles: Antonio Conte is being undermined by a serial culprit from within Chelsea - and pundits are ignoring it

Antonio Conte defended his team's approach at Manchester City (Nigel French/EMPICS)
Antonio Conte defended his team's approach at Manchester City (Nigel French/EMPICS)

John Giles

THERE have been many crimes committed against football over the years but Antonio Conte is not a man I would ever label as a wrong-doer in this regard. In fact, completely the opposite.

There is an awful lot of nonsense flying around at the moment about Conte and Arsene Wenger, most of it being pedalled by those who should know better.

Everyone can see that both men have no control over their circumstances but I haven’t seen anyone try to explain why that is the case.

Jamie Redknapp attached the phrase 'crime against football' to the approach Conte took to playing Manchester City at the weekend and spectacularly missed the point.

In the immediate context of that game, I would agree that Conte might have taken a less fatalistic view of the task in front of his team but then again, I’m not on the training ground and in no position to second guess the manager.

But I do know that Conte has been fatally undermined from within.

The real crime here is against Conte and has been committed by a serial culprit, Roman Abramovich.

If Redknapp can’t see that, he shouldn’t be doing punditry.

He’s not alone in this. Gary Neville has been hammering Arsene Wenger for weeks without ever mentioning the arrival of Sven Mislintat or the fact that the Gunners manager has been standing alone on the touchline watching players he didn’t buy play like a rabble.

It’s hard enough to work with lads you’ve picked out, players you believe will fit the plan in your head and it must be torture for Wenger to be so exposed and yet unable to walk away.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Wenger is blameless as far as the performance of his team is concerned.

He had a chance to make big changes in the summer and either couldn’t or wouldn’t but whatever possibility he had of finding some way to revitalise his team ended when Arsenal hired some men in suits and radically changed the way the club is run.

Wenger should have quit the moment they hired Mislintat just as Conte should have cut the chord with Stamford Bridge in July when it became clear that his transfer wish list was not the document Chelsea were working with. Conte chose to tough it out and he has been in a stand-off with Abramovich ever since.

Redknapp lashed Chelsea because he believed that the Premier League champions should be able to give a better account of themselves against City, the team now odds-on to win this season’s trophy.

His assessment was that Conte had thrown in the towel.

But this wasn’t the Premier League champions I was so impressed with last season. This was a pale shadow of the team which won the title and the blame for that cannot be laid at Conte’s door.

They sold Nemanja Matic out from under him and his best player, N’Golo Kante was injured. Troublesome as Diego Costa was and accepting that Conte made the call to get rid of him, he left a gap when he left which hasn’t been filled.

Conte’s employers offered him Peter Crouch or Andy Carroll and when they couldn’t get either of them on loan, they spent £18m on Olivier Giroud. It was almost as if they were making a point, quite childishly I think, that Conte must take what he is given.

All of this gives us context for the terrible position Conte and Wenger find themselves in but I’ve seen precious little analysis which accurately explains their predicament.

They’ve arrived at lame duck status by different routes but the impact is the same on the pitch. Poor performances and in Arsenal’s case, anarchy.

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