Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! We ask football writers Matt Blake and Jack Prescott if the former Juventus and Italy head coach Antonio Conte is the man to lead Chelsea back to title-winning glory.
YES! Conte’s just what Chelsea needs
“If anyone can breathe life back into Chelsea’s blue and battered corpse, it’s Conte” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
Success is in the Italian blood
Successful seasons are to Italian managers what rubbish chants are to England away fans: in the blood. Name one true Italian managerial failure. See? History doesn’t lie. Of the ten most successful managers in all UEFA competitions of all time, four are Italian (Carlo Ancelotti, Giovanni Trapattoni, Arrigo Sacchi and Nereo Rocco) – more than any other nation. That is, in no small part, thanks to Coverciano – the dedicated football “university” in Tuscany, through which many great Italian coaches have passed since the 1950s. It is the Oxbridge of football coaching, and makes England’s new National Football Centre look like a community college. Conte was bred for this purpose.
Tactics, tactics, tactics
Conte is a tactical maestro. So forensic is his attention to detail that he apparently has an assistant film every training session so the squad can pore over it for hours afterwards in the classroom. That kind of tactical discipline is exactly what Chelsea needs. His 3-5-2 formation took Juventus to three Scudetto titles and, with Chelsea’s wealth of midfield talent already on the team sheet, his tactical philosophy will allow the Blues to play three central midfielders, dictating the pace and flow of every game. If that fails, there’s always the 4-3-1-2 system – he wrote a 38-page thesis on it for his coaching qualification.
Conte’s been here before
Before Conte joined Juventus in 2011, the Bianconeri were suffering the same slow death as Chelsea is now. The Turin club were coming out of a horror-show season, having finished seventh, as players moved in and out like smokers at a nightclub. Then, Conte swooped in and lifted the team through a 2011-12 season, which saw them win the Scudetto without losing a game. Two more consecutive Serie A titles followed before he was lured to manage Italy’s national team. If anyone can breathe life back into Chelsea’s blue and battered corpse, it’s Conte.
Discipline is his best friend
If Chelsea’s dressing room has become a hotbed of clashing cultures and untamed egos, Conte’s got the brass to whip it into shape. He is known to favour the stick over the carrot, with a hairdryer treatment that could strip paint off a goalpost. “I consider defeat to be a state of virtual death,” he’s been quoted as saying, and likes to punish heavy defeats by cancelling team days off to train.
Just listen to Pirlo
If you don’t want to listen to me, fine. But you can’t ignore Italian legend and playmaker-in-chief, Andrea Pirlo. In his autobiography, he recalled the impact Conte had when he first walked into Juventus’ dressing room: "He needed only one speech, with many simple words, to conquer both me and Juventus. He had fire running through his veins and he moved like a viper. 'This squad, dear boys, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes. It's crazy. It's shocking. I am not here for this, so it's time to stop.' When Conte speaks, his words assault you. They crash through the doors of your mind.” I rest my case.
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NO! Conte is too rigid to tame Chelsea
“Conte has no experience of England’s top flight, and he’ll come unstuck” – Jack Prescott, sports writer, Virgin Media
Italian managers are too strict for the English game
Conte’s critics have claimed that his tactical style is too rigid, which can’t be good news if you’re a Chelsea fan. It’s important that Conte gets the team back in the winning habit, but there’s likely to be unrest in the stands if the game is stale – there was plenty of that with José Mourinho in charge. While Claudio Ranieri is proving that not all Italian coaches are cut from the same stylish cloth, Conte may be forced to expand his footballing horizons over here if his trusted 3-5-2 formation doesn’t cut the mustard. And does he look like a bloke who likes to compromise?
Conte lacks knowledge
Sure, he won three consecutive Serie A titles at Juventus, but Sam Allardyce could probably do the same in that mismatched league. The truth is that Conte has no experience of England’s top flight, and he’s sure to have a culture shock when he lands over here after the Euros. What’s more, it could take him a while to readjust to the club game after the slower pace of international football – and time is a rare luxury in the cut-throat world of the Barclays Premier League.
Other teams will strengthen
Enjoy this crazy season while you can, because it’s unlikely to repeat itself anytime soon. Chelsea may well give Conte a blank cheque in the summer, but the chances are all of the other big teams will be doing some major strengthening of their squads as well. Arsenal and Manchester United are both sure to boost their benches, while Manchester City will be expected to go mad in the transfer market once Pep Guardiola takes the helm. One thing’s for certain: next season’s title race will be more competitive than this one.
No John Terry, no party
Chelsea’s “captain, leader and legend” looks to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, meaning that Conte will be arriving at a time when the club’s identity is in a state of flux. Whether you love him or loathe him, Terry has been integral to the team’s success over the past decade with his leadership on the pitch and in the dressing room. Chelsea is a much weaker proposition without the blood-and-thunder spirit of Terry.
Dressing room unrest
If the likes of Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas can get José Mourinho booted out of Stamford Bridge, who’s to say they can’t do the same to Conte? The Italian is known to be a disciplinarian (just check out that cold gaze), he’s got a job on his hands taming the Chelsea squad. Bigger names in management have fallen by the wayside in West London – So Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti to name just two – so Conte will need to learn some diplomacy if he wants to survive in the most political of dressing rooms.
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