Since Antonio Conte’s appointment at Chelsea in the summer of 2016, there has rarely been a dull moment at the club. From his excitable antics in and around the dug-out to a series of combustible sound-bites at press conferences.
It is, therefore with little shock that speculation has once more been raised connecting Conte and the current vacancy with the Italian national team.
In retaliation to the increased rumours being circulated that the Italian could walk out on the club, Conte used his recent media briefing preceding tonight’s clash with Watford to speak about his commitment the Blues.
“I’d like to have a statement to support against this speculation,”
“Maybe I’d like that the club to prepare a statement for me to tell, (through the media) ‘I trust in his job, I trust in his work’.”
Having entertained the possibility of extending his contract with last year’s Premier League champions, what can’t be ignored is that all of this comes at a time when his team are currently struggling on the pitch.
Álvaro Morata, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rüdiger and Davide Zappacosta are all his signings from this summer, yet none of them have covered themselves in ample amounts of glory.
Add to this the fact that Chelsea have recently sanctioned a further £50 million worth of incoming talent to the squad last month: players who Conte has himself lauded in the press.
It’s hard to suggest Chelsea have not put their money where he now wishes them to place their voice.
The ominous vote
Quite why a manager would want a public vote of confidence from the board when it means so little in the modern game is also something of a mystery.
Amid the collection of interim managers littering Chelsea’s recent managerial history, both previous permanent managers employed by the club received public endorsements regarding their jobs to no avail.
José Mourinho received it two months prior to his sacking at the end of 2015 and, likewise, Roberto Di Matteo received his a mere two days before his P45 was handed to him in November 2012.
Of course, this is not a practice limited to just Chelsea and often serves as a prelude to the majority of managerial dismissals within football.
The fact this is common knowledge for everyone outside of the game suggests those at the sharp-end too will be fully aware of how empty the words of confidence actually are.
Which leaves the question of why Conte has demanded this near-meaningless approval.
Smoke and mirrors
Whether it’s a political manoeuvring in relation to a hierarchy problem at the club, a power-move to quell dissenting voices in the dressing room or an ill-judged ploy to grow his popularity amongst Chelsea fans, Conte does not appear to have the best interests of the club at heart.
His intentions may not be purely selfish in nature. However, the net result is to drive a greater wedge in the fragile unity which currently exists within the club.
Of the many power struggles and histrionics which have occurred during Conte’s 19-month reign, the club have yet to raise a dissenting voice against him, either officially or through “sources close to the club”.
What has happened instead, is Conte has slowly burnt the bridges with those surrounding him in West London. There will always be tensions and frictions within the framework of a large organisation such as a football club, however, only the owner of the gets full autonomy of dictating day-to-day runnings.
A manager has to manage, for better or for worse, to the agreement which they took the position. They can push for change but ultimately, there should also be a time for compromise and an acceptance of responsibility.
The Old Lady
Akin to the story currently playing out at Chelsea, Conte’s departure from Juventus in the summer of 2014 bears some striking similarities.
There was a protracted public fallout played through the media by Conte which eventually saw him resign due to issues with the club’s transfer policy. At the forefront of this was the alleged broken promise that Arturo Vidal would remain at the club, something which looked for from certain in July which Conte resigned.
However, Vidal remained at the club throughout the whole of the following season under new manager Maximilian Allegri, something which seems to weaken Conte’s argument in hindsight.
While Conte’s actions were seen as destabilising during the death-throws of his tenure, the fact that Allegri was appointed as the new Juventus manager only one day after Conte’s resignation suggests it was a widely anticipated move within the corridors of power.
Conte’s actions and suggestions surrounding his resignation, therefore, look more like a face-saving exercise than anything more untoward.
Unlike Juventus were at that particular juncture in their history, Chelsea do not have the luxury of being in a position of dominance.
Furthermore, having won the league with relative ease last season, they have looked far from being a fluid side for much of this campaign. A lack of leadership on the pitch evident from their surprise opening-day defeat to Burnley, combined with an over-reliance on Eden Hazard has exposed a soft-underbelly to their title challenges.
Co-incidentally, Hazard has been regularly linked with a move to Real Madrid in the media throughout various points of this season, not too dis-similar to the Vidal rumours in the early stages of 2014.
Part of this whole saga can be laid squarely at the doorstep of some media outlets who apparently want to perpetuate these type of headlines. However, the main protagonist in this narrative is also as responsible for driving these agendas as anyone else.
With regards to Diego Costa, Conte stated during the summer that “no player is bigger than the club”.
In a cruel twist of fate, Conte should fall upon this same sword before his continued presence at the club causes damage which could take excessive time for any new appointment to unpick.
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