Pressure is a strange beast. It brings out the best in some. In others, it makes them freeze. But for most, it is a cause of severe angst, leading to often irrational thoughts & deeds.
Now, I can never accuse Antonio Conte of being anything other than a serial winner, certainly when it comes to mentality. His exploits at Juventus, initially as a player, and later in guiding the Old Lady to the first three of six consecutive Serie A titles, a feat unlikely to be repeated again. Of course, the fact they could win a seventh straight is neither here nor there in this context. It’s still a mighty footballing mountain to climb.
Conte wrote himself into Chelsea folklore. Not only did he match the Special Brat – errrrr, I mean the Special One – in winning the title in his first season in charge, he was the first manager to win 30 games in an EPL season. But things seem to be going slightly sour for the Italian.
Like all managers, he had a shopping list of players he wanted prior to the start of the new season. Everton’s want away star, and Chelsea old boy Romelu Lukaku was, by all accounts, top of that list. That was a bust, as Lukaku chose to join his old managerial nemesis at Old Trafford. Attention therefore shifted to Real Madrid’s in-demand striker, Alvaro Morata, who was duly signed. As was German central defender Antonio Rudiger from Roma, and defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco.
To many mangers, these three would have been dream signings, filling the club and fans with a renewed sense of energy. Reinforcements in the main areas managers see as key to a successful team – the spine.
Job complete? Not a chance! The fact that he told fan favourite Diego Costa that his services were no longer required was a bit of a shock. Compounded by the fact that Nemanja Matic – another lynchpin in his title-winning side – was sold to Manchester United. Lukaku’s rejection of his old club was bad enough, but letting Matic join the same title rival definitely seems like a stab in the chest to the Shed faithful! However, the Italian is used to such goings-on in Italy, where such moves are not regarded with quite the same sense of venom. Or despair.
After his surefootedness in his debut season, that was Conte’s third mistake. To Chelsea fans, it might have reminded them of the old adage of London buses. None for an age, and then three come at once!
Come the first game of the season, Chelsea were in for a bit of a shock. What would have been pencilled in as a home banker, turned out to be quite the opposite. Beaten by a Burnley team, with 2 players sent off in the bargain. Then began the bleating.
As I had argued in an earlier article in these pages, managers have a ready excuse for such happenings. Conte now says he wanted more signings, saying his squad isn’t strong enough. Then why let Costa, Matic, Begovic, Traore, Ake, Kakuta & Chalobah leave? And to compound the problem, the club has thirty-eight – yes, you read that right, thirty-eight – players out on loan. Of course, many are youngsters sent to get first team experience. But to let Kurt Zouma, Tomas Kalas, Rueben Loftus-Cheek, Lucas Piazon and Mario Pasalic, amongst others leave – players who one might expect to challenge for a place in the squad – smacks of poor planning.
In my view, by retaining just Zouma and Loftus-Cheek, he would have adequate cover and competition for places, but it does smack a little bit of getting ready to throw in the towel before we even get into the meat of the season. And it can’t be very reassuring to the existing players, knowing the manager has so little faith in them, especially to the ones out on loan.
Antonio, you’ve made a rod for your own back, and a loss this coming weekend to Spurs will definitely see the bleating broadcast in quadrophonic. And a sure fire recipe for panic buys at inflated prices. All this is music to the ears of Guardiola and Mourinho in particular – both managing clubs in the city the 2017/18 EPL title is almost definitely going to end up.