Not for the first time, the UK sports pages dedicate substantial coverage to the inevitable exit of Antonio Conte from Chelsea. Conte may have been given a stay of execution following Monday’s embarassing 4-1 defeat by Watford, but everybody is agreed, Conte is a dead man walking.
Having won the title last year with what was more or less the team that downed tools on Jose Mourinho, Chelsea fans were probably looking forward to this season with a lot of optimism. That optimism wasn’t totally misplaced, as it looks more or less certain that Chelsea will still finish in one of the top 4 Champions league qualification slots, but fans were probably expecting more.
They might have been horrified to watch as Conte’s man-management skills guaranteed that Diego Costa would never pull on a Chelsea shirt again, without having first secured a replacement. Love him or hate him, the accolades showered on Conte after Chelsea picked up the title last year were in no small part down to Costa’s goals and general contribution.
Nobody outside the Chelsea boardroom genuinely knows who was responsible for Chelsea’s buys this summer, although Conte has been keen to pass the blame on to others. What everybody knows, however, is that aside from a bright start by Morata, the new arrivals have failed to shine.
Chelsea have failed to shine, and many have started to wonedr if the problem is that Conte is simply out of his depth. The Italian league, where he inherited the only team to have won Serie A in what seems like a lifetime, is nowhere near as competitive as the Premier League. Let’s be honest, Donald Duck could win the Serie A title if you made him manager of Juventus.
Were it not for the approaching Champions League tie with Barcelona, it’s probable Conte would already be on his way. Once that formality is over, Mr Conte will be free to return to his beloved Italy.
But don’t you get the feeling that this is exactly, precisely, what Conte has been waiting for? Leaks, whispers and assorted rumours have left the UK sporting press in no doubt that Conte didn’t plan to be Chelsea manager next season.
As a very last resort, he might have been planning to resign during the summer break, doubtless justified on the grounds that he couldn’t turn down the chance to become manager of the Italian national team again. The Italian authorities aren’t even hiding the fact that they’re keeping the National manager’s position open for him, having installed a temporary manager to keep the seat warm.
But of course, if you resign from Chelsea, you don’t get the multi-million pound compensation payout. You get bugger all, and maybe even have to pay a penalty to break your contract.
No, his behaviour, repeated spoon stirring and general whining have given the unmistakable impression of a man not at home away from his native country, determined to go head back for a less demanding job in a far less competitive environment, with a big fat compensation cheque in his pocket. If you look at his and Chelsea’s performances this year, you’d have to say he’s working hard to get his ticket.