It has been a good few days for Chelsea fans. If beating London rivals West Ham 2-1 on their own ground wasn’t already a cause for celebration, rumours that manager Antonio Conte will sign a new contract imminently certainly will be.
There has been much speculation of late around Conte’s future despite the fact that his current deal still has more than two years to run. Perhaps the greatest concern for Chelsea supporters came with the admission last week that his wife and daughter still live back in Italy. Although the reason for this is ostensibly so that his wife can complete a university degree, the separation has obviously been difficult and it would be entirely understandable if he were to put his family’s desires first. After all, top-level football management is a lucrative pursuit in every major league.
Options are also available to Conte. His stock in his homeland is high given his achievements with both Juventus and the national team. Three Serie A titles in a row proves he knows how to cut it in the Italian top flight, while his run to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 that featured wins over Belgium and Spain only further enhanced his standing. It was of little surprise then to hear that both Inter Milan and AC Milan were sounding him out over a possible return home.
Conte’s current deal sees him paid £6.5 million a year, a more than handsome salary but less than what Pep Guardiola is reportedly receiving at Manchester City. With his team riding high at the top of the Premier League, Conte certainly holds all the aces when bargaining over new terms. And, quite frankly, he deserves to be granted whatever he is asking.
There have been few, if any, transformations in a team’s fortunes that have been quite as seismic as the one that Conte has undertaken at Chelsea in such a short space of time. Arsene Wenger turned an average Arsenal into Premier League champions in 1998, but that was in his second season at the helm. Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester won the title having only just avoided relegation the year before, though they had won seven of their last nine games in their efforts to beat the drop so were clearly already a team in form.
Admittedly, at Conte’s disposal is a squad full of proven winners and individuals that man for man are certainly superior to those of Leicester. What shouldn’t be underestimated, however, is quite how low morale had plunged throughout the playing staff and how much self-doubt seemed to have crept in during the dismal 2015-16 season. Even the noted man-management skills of Guus Hiddink failed to really rouse them in the second half of that campaign. Factor in those confidence-sapping defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal in September and the metamorphosis from also-rans to runaway leaders is extraordinary.
The Chelsea board should be highly commended for identifying and securing the right manager last spring. After firing a club legend in Jose Mourinho and failing to properly invest in the playing staff the previous summer, there was much goodwill to claw back. The acquisition of Conte has certainly assuaged some of those concerns. But losing him now, unless for personal family reasons, would be to undermine all of their good work and put them back to square one both in terms of the club’s on-field direction and their relationship with the fans.
Money has rarely been much of an object at Chelsea in the Roman Abramovich era, so it is to be assumed that the board have waved enough of it at Conte to convince him his future lies in west London. It should also be assumed that cash is not Conte’s sole requirement, with requests for squad reinforcements almost certainly a part of any negotiations. If he is to sign a new deal and the right players arrive in the summer, then the coming months and years for Conte, Chelsea and their supporters look very prosperous indeed.
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