Antonio Conte’s tenure so far at the helm of Chelsea has been nothing short of an unmitigated success, or at least it appears that way.
After joining the club last summer, the list of jobs that he was tasked with was endless; a dressing room in revolt, a failing youth system and, perhaps most importantly, improving Chelsea’s league position. However, almost a year into the job, and despite the plaudits heading Antonio Conte’s way – it seems as though he has only been able to achieve one of those feats.
Certainly, Conte deserves a lot of credit. Chelsea’s turnaround this season has been nothing short of stratospheric. The Blues finished a whopping 31 points off of top spot during the 2015/16 season – just scraping their way into the top half of the table in 10th place. The Chelsea of this season are almost unrecognisable. Despite being touted as a team that would struggle to compete at the top, Conte’s team currently sit at the pinnacle of the Premier League, with 10 points separating them from second place Tottenham. On the pitch, Conte’s job has been exemplary – and that cannot be argued.
However, Chelsea’s problems went far deeper than just last year’s league position – and with a report from The Sun suggesting that a few of Chelsea’s fringe players are disgruntled, the true job that Conte has on his hands appears far greater. According to that Sun report, a few of the players in Chelsea’s squad – they mention John Terry and Kurt Zouma among others in particular – are not happy that they were left out of the Blues’ side to face Manchester United in the FA Cup. Retrospectively, the fact that Chelsea won the game would give Conte a free pass, but given his current position, you can certainly see why the players are upset. After all, John Terry, Nathaniel Chalobah and Kurt Zouma have all been regulars in the FA Cup until this point, and they did earn their place within the side.
Unfortunately for Conte, this is not the first time that his man management has come under fire. Diego Costa had a falling out with the manager in October after growing frustrated with the frequency in which he barked orders from the touchline, whilst the Spaniard also had a widely publicised argument with the manager in January after a bid from a Chinese side. Of course, these are just the incidents that have been made public – who knows what else has gone on behind the scenes.
Beyond the immediate anger of Chelsea’s fringe players, this revelation also represents an even greater problem for the manager: his utilisation of young players. Part of the Italian’s remit for his spell in charge of the Blues is certainly to begin to embed young, homegrown players within Chelsea’s first team – and his failure to do so will certainly take marks away from his performance this season. Indeed, involvement in the league has been close to non-existent, and the fact that young players like Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma and Nathaniel Chalobah are now being excused from domestic cup duty makes the matter even more difficult.
Indeed, when you combine reports of player unhappiness with suggestions from the Times which state that Conte is unhappy with broken promises from Roman Abramovich – the success of his opening year in charge begins to cloud.
This brings us on to the most poignant topic of conversation, and this is where Conte must learn from the mistakes of his predecessors. Jose Mourinho’s remit was a very similar one to Conte’s. He joined the club after a poor season, and was tasked with earning immediate success and bringing through young players.
Mourinho regularly talked up his youth army, whilst he also brought immediate success in the form of a Premier League title. However, less than a year later – he was out of the door. Managing a failing team with little youth development was enough for Abramovich to swing the axe – and the very same thing could certainly happen to Conte should this season’s successes not be repeated next term.
The cost of success for Antonio Conte could be far greater than he could ever imagine. A Premier League title win was never on the agenda this season, but the Italian has seemingly pulled it off – and he deserves immense credit for that. However, his success may not be without consequence. Chelsea are looking for long-term success, and in order to achieve that and remain in the job, Conte must begin to have a more long-term plan. This means that he must make sure that his entire squad is involved, whilst he must also iron out any issues that he has with the Chelsea brass.
Second season syndrome is appearing faster than ever before at Stamford Bridge. And for Conte to succeed, he must do exactly what Jose Mourinho wasn’t able to.