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.
Notable Italians at Chelsea
Notable Italians at Chelsea
1/6 Gianluca Vialli: May 1996-Sep 2000
Player:Gianluca Vialli was out of contract when Ruud Gulit brought him in from Juventus and although he was clearly on the decline he was still a star. His first season was solid, although a row with Gullit often saw him left out . He scored twice in the memorable win against Liverpool on the way to winning the FA Cup. His second season (as player-manager) Chelsea won the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup - finished his career with 40 goals in 83 games for the Blues.
Manager:Vialli was appointed as player-manager in February 1998. His first full season in charge, 1998-99, was the Blues' best in years, they flirted with a title challenge before finishing 3rd, their highest since 1970. The next year Chelsea were in the Champions League for the first time, reaching the quarter-finals where they recorded a memorable 3-1 win in against Barcelona. The Blues finished 5th although Vialli lifted the FA Cup. He was sacked just five games into the season after a poor start.
2/6 Roberto Di Matteo: July 1996-Feb 2002; Mar 2012-Nov 2012
Player:Di Matteo, unlike Vialli, was a player in his prime when he arrived. In five seasons Di Matteo made almost 200 appearances, scoring a number of memorable goals, including a brilliant drive in the 1997 FA Cup final. He was a key player in the late 1990s although a number of injuries limited him in his final three seasons. He retired in February 2002 aged 31.
Manager:Di Matteo was named as the assistant to new manager Andre Villas-Boas in 2012. However, the Portuguese lasted just nine months at the club, with Di Matteo being promoted to the top job. As interim manager his league form was patchy but he was able to inspire his players to an FA Cup final win over Liverpool and the famous Champions League win in Germany. He was given the permanent job in June 2012, but was sacked in November, with Chelsea all but eliminated from the Champions League group stage.
2012 Getty Images
3/6 Gianfranco Zola: Nov 1996-May 2003
Player:Easily one of the best players in Chelsea history and the probably the most loved, the affable forward lit up Chelsea for seven seasons, scoring 80 goals in more than 300 games. Twice named the club's player of the year, Zola helped Chelsea to win two FA Cups, the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup, while his ability to perform ridiculous pieces of skill and score truly brilliant goals has ethched his place in memory. His best goals are easily recalled: turning Dennis Irwin inside out; the Cruyff turn against Wimbledon; his free-kick against Barcelona (or West Ham, Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham Hotspur); the flick against Norwich City; that lob against Everton in the final seconds of his final match... After buying the club in 2003 Roman Abramovich famously offered Zola a king's ransom to stay at Stamford Bridge, despite having already agreed a move back to Cagliari. Ever a man of his word, Zola refused the offer.
4/6 Carlo Cudicini: Jul 1999-Jan 2009
Player:When he first joined the club, Cudicini was an undersized (6ft 1in), unknown back up to Ed De Goey bought for around £150,000. He soon proved his worth as a truly excellent stopper and it was only cruel circumstance that stopped him from a longer reign as Chelsea No 1. He was the fans' player of the year in 2001-02, and was a brilliant servant for four seasons before an injury in 2004 saw Chelsea move to sign Petr Cech - the rest is history. Although he stayed as a back up too long, Cudicini's importance in Chelsea history should not be underestimated. He is third all-time in clean sheets, with 101 behind only Peter Bonetti and Petr Cech, while he was part of two FA Cup winning teams, two League Cup teams and the squad for two Premier League titles. He may not have won a medal for either, having not played enough matches, but his ability to push Cech to better things should also be remembered.
5/6 Claudio Ranieri: Sep 2000-May 2004
Manager:Looking back now, with Leicester City top of the Premier League, may skew Ranieri's reign at Chelsea for some. Ranieri's, known as the 'tinker man' back then for his frustrating reliance on rotation, reign was filled with inconsistency. Desire boasting the lethal partnership of Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen, his first three seaons brought 5th, 6th and 6th place finishes, while it needed a final day win over Liverpool to secure Champions League football in 2003-04 (Roman Abramovich, sort of, buying the club after that). Supporterrs won't forget how inconsistency and rotation marred Chelsea hopes in his final season in charge, or how his strange decisions and substitutionse cost Chelsea the 2004 Champions League (although that, sort of, brought Jose Mourinho to the club).
6/6 Carlo Ancelotti: June 2009-May 2011
Manager:One of the most popular managers to ever sit in the Stamford Bridge dugout, Ancelotti was an extremely loved boss, who was poorly treated by the Chelsea hierarchy. His first season in charge brought the Double, the first in Chelsea history, with a brand of attacking football that saw the team score a mesmerising 103 goals in 38 league matches. Chelsea went trophyless in his second season, while Ancelotti again failed twice in the Champions. Still, he was inexcusably sacked in the tunnel at Goodison Park, a fate he did not deserve at all. The one that got away? Since leaving Stamford Bridge Ancelotti has won Ligue 1 with PSG and the Champions League with Real Madrid; he will take over at Bayern Munich in the summer.
2010 Getty Images
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.Reuse content