If any one moment in his storied career both as a player and a manager sums up Chelsea boss Antonio Conte perfectly it is a pre-match press conference he gave during his time as AC Siena manager in 2011.
The Tuscan outfit – who declared bankruptcy a mere three years after Conte departed such was the extent of their administrative mismanagement – were fighting for promotion from Serie B. The former Juventus captain was performing admirably under intense scrutiny from locals and with limited resources at his disposal, but ahead of a game with Modena he simply could not remain silent any longer.
In a captivating five-minute tirade that took aim at absolutely anyone and everyone from rival clubs to naysaying supporters, Conte laid out in meticulous detail how Siena were out-performing the rest of the division despite having sold their best players and significantly reduced the wage-bill.
“We were left with a team of dead players no one wanted,” he began. “Atalanta and Livorno kept their best and reinforced their squads in January. Torino have been spending money for years and still can’t get promoted. I’m sick of listening to these people who have a pseudo-understanding of the game.”
“We’re being whistled at the slightest set-back. Can we give more? Of course we can, but so too can Barcelona. We’re pushing this car at 200km/hr. If people don’t want to understand this it’s not my problem. I will defend my players to the death. I will defend my own work to the death.”
Siena only lost two of the 15 games that followed Conte’s outburst and ultimately gained automatic promotion to Serie A. The rant had shades of one Jose Mourinho with its steady stream of sarcasm and rhetorical questions. It epitomised Conte as a passionate midfielder and highlighted what mattered most to him as he subsequently took the helm at a faltering Juventus that summer; winning. He would make winning such an intrinsic part of his identity as a coach that he even named his daughter Vittoria – victory.
Conte took the Old Lady from back-to-back seventh-place finishes to three consecutive Serie A titles – the first since the infamous Calciopoli scandal engulfed the club in 2006 – each league triumph proving more successful than the last. In his maiden campaign the Bianconeri went unbeaten in a run that equalled Arsenal’s Invincibles at 49 games before picking up more points, scoring more goals and conceding fewer in his second season. In his his third and final campaign, they won every single game at home and became the first team ever to break the 100-point barrier in Serie A.
The eight-time Scudetto winner has always sought to emphasise his team’s strengths rather than enforce any one specific tactical philosophy. Contrary to popular belief, Conte is not wedded to back-three formations and even pioneered the 4-2-4 system during his Serie B championship run with Bari in 2009. He simply believed he would have more success with Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini all on the pitch at Juventus and later with the Italian national team – just as he does now when he fields David Luiz centrally in a back-three and keeps John Terry on the bench.
“People think I’m unpleasant because I win all the time? That’s not my problem,” shrugged Conte to a packed press-room at Vinovo during his first year as a manager in Turin. “I put my all into my job. I ask myself to do so before I turn around to my players and ask them do the same.” He demands that level of commitment from his squad and has never hesitated to drop more technically gifted players for those who will put in the hard yards and execute his instructions. Cesc Fàbregas has been a victim of that mentality this season.
The Lecce-native’s demands inspire fierce loyalty from his players, however, as those who have been under his stewardship will attest. Arturo Vidal maintains that if he “had to go to war [he’d] take Conte” with him. “His words assault you,” detailed Andrea Pirlo in his autobiography. “But I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gone home and said: Hell, Conte said something really spot-on again today.”
When Conte resigned as Juventus manager one day into their pre-season preparations in 2014, Gianluigi Buffon put it best when he said: “We’ve lost the emblem of our renaissance.” The same sense of grief was palpable throughout Italy over the summer when he left the position of ‘Commissario Tecnico’ for Stamford Bridge after leading a mediocre Azzurri outfit to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. In both cases he believed, rightly or wrongly, that the conditions were not in place for him to continue.
He now finds himself top of the Premier League at the end of November while the headline-grabbing managerial duo in Manchester lag behind. The perfect way to truly announce his Chelsea side’s presence would be with a win over the only remaining unbeaten team in the league in Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening. If he manages that, do not expect Conte to keep quiet for much longer.
Read more at independent.co.uk