To have the luxury of being able to bring on a player the calibre of Fabregas to restore some order, and calm the nerves of those of us in the stands is a pretty big ace to have up one’s sleeve. It was certainly what we needed – and a wise move by Conte. Up to then we looked out of sorts. I get that we are not going to play beautiful and expansive football every game, but I thought given some of the results this weekend, our lot would be chomping at the bit to put a bit more daylight between us and the chasing pack. Instead we were served up a pretty frustrating display that doesn’t fill me with confidence for the next two league games. That may be a bit unfair on Hull who certainly didn’t look like a team rooted to the foot of the table but the point still stands.
I’m not sure really what to make of the recent Costa stories. When he scored yesterday his celebration seemed to make reference to people talking too much about things they do not necessarily know anything about. Conte, and each player asked about the stories, has denied any argument happened, denied that Costa threatened to go to China and denied that anything of any note happened at all. But then they would say that wouldn’t they.
The fact is that something probably did happen. But these things must happen all the time at every club in every country. Any group made up of fiercely competitive individuals will experience disagreements at some point. The important thing is how these things are managed. Chelsea more than perhaps any other side in recent times, has suffered from player power – this was perhaps Conte’s first experience of something that could quite quickly develop. Of course, we don’t know how things played out exactly – but we know what is important – and that is that Costa is back in the side, scoring goals and doesn’t look as if he is going anywhere any time soon. Things may change at the end of the season, but Conte can only concentrate on the here and now. And I imagine that Abramovich too will not allow another season of ‘palpable discord’. He has been our owner and benefactor for 14 years now (still not bored by the way) and he will have learnt some lessons along the way too.
Abramovich has hired and fired a lot of managers in those fourteen years and hopefully he can see that he has struck gold with Conte. The Italian is obviously very personable and a decent guy but there is also a steely edge to him. The comparison between him and Mourinho is an interesting one. Both can be considered inspirational managers – both are brilliant, passionate and hugely competitive but their methods seem to differ dramatically. I don’t think we would ever see Conte humiliate a player publicly as Mourinho has done in the past. Conte has throughout his career often identified players over-looked, or on the fringes of the first team and shown belief and invested time in them. This demonstrates to the whole squad that everyone could be in contention if they work hard and buy into the manager’s ethos.
All the players have said that Conte is easy to talk to, that he discusses decisions with them and he is very approachable – this is obviously a barb aimed towards Mourinho during our annus horribilis. Conte has benefitted from playing for some big time managers – the likes of Lippi, Trapanttoni, Sacchi etc – he knows how players react to managers – Mourinho does not have this advantage – although he has worked with some great managers – only someone who has been a player can understand how the manager manages can directly affect the dynamics of the whole team not of just one player. Mourinho chose the players he needed/liked and the others were often left in the cold. This is a dangerous strategy and one that contributed to his downfall. Even the chosen players will not like to see team-mates/friends treated so dismissively. If Mourinho had been a player he would have understood just how important this is.
Conte seems to have retained this mind-set of a player, even though he has made the move to management – again the current squad often stress the fact that they can relate to him, and that can only be a good thing. I am not saying that Conte is necessarily a better manager than Mourinho, but just that issues may not escalate as they did with a manager who has played the game at the highest level as opposed to one who hasn’t. No one can argue with Mouinho’s record, but I think we can all agree that there are situations that he could have handled better.
But Conte too has expectations of the players – anyone with a bad attitude better beware. He said in a recent interview that he would rather KILL a player than have such a person in his squad. He said this without a hint of a smile or humour – he understand how such a bad apple can affect a squad – it’s refreshing to hear a manager with such a clear message. To him, it matters not how big a player you may be or how important to the team – if you don’t buy in – he will ship you out – one way or another, and we the fans need to accept that – after all, aren’t we the ones always saying that no player is bigger than the club.
There are no trophies handed out in January and he knows that more than anyone, so no one is counting any chickens just yet. But the immediate future is looking good and I think we all know that with Conte we are in a safe pair of hands.
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