Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ronnie Whelan: Antonio Conte has been head and shoulders above his rivals

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte

The more this season unfolds, the more I wonder about the great management reputations which arrived in the Premier League last summer.

Like everyone else, I was intrigued by the notion that the Premier League now had some of the very best managers in the world and that the season would be dominated by them.

It hasn’t really worked out that way. In fact, the opposite. Only Chelsea and Conte have achieved their ambitions.

I watched Manchester City lose to Monaco in midweek and I have to say, I was actually annoyed by what I saw from Pep Guardiola.

This is supposed to be the greatest manager in the world. I didn’t see that. I saw confusion, chaos and poor organisation.

I saw Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola play out a 1-1 draw at the Etihad yesterday and all I could think of was Antonio Conte and how he has achieved the balance which no other manager has achieved this season.

At Old Trafford, the other pretender to the crown of best manager on the planet has relied on one man to keep his head above water all season.

Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we would be wondering whether the Special One would survive the season at Old Trafford.

Jose Mourinho has pinned his flag to Paul Pogba but really, he dies if Zlatan stops playing and we all know that.

Pogba may yet come right. He may yet match his valuation but so far, he hasn’t delivered.

Like him all the great names in management have struggled and only Conte can make a justifiable claim that he has done his job properly.

Sure, Klopp got a decent point and enough to maintain Liverpool’s interest in the top four against City yesterday and Guardiola probably felt the same after a tough game.

But neither of these much-heralded bosses have come close to what Conte has done.

There are many reasons for this but I prefer to deal with positives and an Italian manager who has won the battle of the bosses quite easily and done so by keeping things simple, keeping things balanced. He has a template at Stamford Bridge which could work very well for the next few years at least.

There is no great mystery to what Conte has done. While Klopp and Guardiola agonise over the fine detail of their pressing game, Conte gets on with winning – whatever way he can. He is the only manager who can tie a game up as it’s happening. He can make the right adjustments to protect a lead and he has a player at the heart of his team who makes all of this possible.

The one player who embodies all of the qualities which have made Chelsea so good this season is

N’Golo Kante.

It is no surprise at all that back-to-back titles will be won by the one man capable of playing the kind of midfield role which makes everything else easy for those around him.

Mostly, nobody would notice the work Kante does but it is so important and so fundamental.

Watching Liverpool and Manchester City fight it out, I couldn’t help think that both teams could be vastly improved by Kante.

Mourinho was trying desperately to defend Pogba in midweek and everything he said made no sense when you compare his season with Kante’s.

I see why he was doing it and I would probably have done the same myself but I have no doubt in my mind that if you put Mourinho in a dark room and asked for honesty, he would admit that Kante was the signing of the season, not Pogba.

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