Antonio! The Chelsea Boss definitely knows how to get the best out of his players
Much like last year, Chelsea didn't have a great transfer window this time around. They missed their targets, had a host of players snub them and got relatively unknown players on the deadline day. Last year, several pundits tagged the purchase of Marcos Alonso and David Luiz as panic buys.
This year again, Chelsea was all over the news on deadline day. From Barkley reportedly backpedalling from medicals to Ox preferring the red side of Merseyside over the bluish London, it was all going awry for the Stamford Bridge outfit. But by the end of the window, Conte and the board managed to buy a few lads to round up what was a strictly average transfer window. Or was it so?
Getting Juventus back in business
When Antonio Conte was appointed as Juve's boss in 2011, he was relatively new to the world as a manager. Everybody knew about his work ethic as a player. Conte was not the one who was abundantly gifted technically. But he was one of the most hard working players in the team who put his head down and worked day in and day out in the training ground. All in all, he was, what you'd call a typical Italian engine.
Juve had finished the previous season 6 places below the winners AC Milan. The then Milan teams had the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Robhino, Wesley Sneijder, Diego Forlan and Samuel Etoo. To take on those Milan teams and help Juve lift the crown after 9 years looked nearly implausible.
But as it turned out, Conte not only brought in the first title after 9 years but it was the beginning of a new era for Il Bianconeri who would go on to dominate the Serie A in the years to come.
In the 2011-12 season, Conte acquired two contrasting midfielders. First was Andrea Pirlo, whom AC Milian had released stating he is too old for the team and the other a young dynamic midfielder from Chile by the name of Arturo Vidal. Arguably, people didn't expect much from these two. But Conte had other plans.
Surprisingly, both became indispensable parts of Juve's midfield in the years to come and this continued even after Conte had left Juve for the national side. The season was a dream come true for Juve as they had managed to win the Serie A. But very few people noticed at that time that this hard working man was laying the foundation for a Juve side which would go on to become front runners in Europe.
He even brought in young additions to the team (read Paul Pogba) and with his tough-grinding training methodology and his mastery over the Italian playing style, the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli were resuscitated.
Conte went on to win 3 Serie A in the consecutive years and built the base for a team that is still dominating not just in Italy but also in Europe. However, the question is whether or not he can do the same with Chelsea.
The West London job
Antonio Conte surprised everyone when he took the Italian national team to the quarters of UEFA EURO 2016. With the squad Italy had at that time, it was difficult to imagine them going past the group stage of the tournament but they managed to defeat the defending champions Spain. They even got the better of the talented Belgians before getting knocked out by the Germans in a penalty shoot out in the quarter finals.
Last year nobody would have placed their bets on Chelsea winning the title, except some steadfast fans. But they surprised everyone and managed to secure Premier League glory. And now it looks like the Italian manager is doing something different at Chelsea. Something which most previous managers have failed to accomplish at Stamford Bridge- building a core. If the team can dominate English football, why can't they do the same in Europe?
So what is it that makes Conte different from other managers?
"When Conte speaks, his words assault you," wrote Pirlo in his book I Think Therefore I Play. "They crash through the doors of your mind, often quite violently and settle deep within you. I've lost track of the number of times I've found myself saying, Hell, Conte said something really spot-on again today".
Lampard revealed to Sky: "When Conte signed for Chelsea, Pirlo said to me, 'ring your mates and tell them they’re never gonna run as much as now”.
He brings that Italian culture to England. Chelsea has now become a Premier League side with all the makings of a dominant Italian force. Many tried to copy his successful 3-4-3 style of play but only a few managed to do it successfully. He is a technical genius and has adopted the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 playing style since his days with Juve and Italy and is now replicating the same in the Premier League with Chelsea. His team setups still remind many of the Old Italian "Catenaccio".
On the touchline, Conte simmers and explodes. He is a religious man and is known to kiss his crucifix or twiddle his rosary beads ahead of a game. At halftime, he hurls bottles around in a rage. All these shenanigans of his, in fact, showcase a great amount of commitment that has been ingrained in his DNA. If you see his post-match interviews or press conferences, you will notice that he will always repeats two of his favourite words- 'work work work' and 'improve, improve and improve'.
Chelsea fans swear by these words. And Conte follows what he preaches. The current Chelsea squad puts in a lot of effort on the training ground. The man himself runs with his players so that he could keep himself fit for all that he does from the touchline.
"Usually when my team plays I try to play with them," Conte told the reporters.
'I always try at every moment to suggest the right pass or position and that's important because sometimes when the ball is on one side it is important to shout to change side'
All the hard work in training is showing great results for Chelsea and they are getting themselves together as a team. The little one-twos which they do very frequently to tear the defences apart are straight from the training ground. Players like Marcos Alonso, Victor Moses, N'golo Kante have improved a lot under the Italian's tutelage.
Kante improved his ball distribution a lot since joining from Leicester. Conte always wanted to work with Alvaro Morata at Juve but it couldn't happen at the time. Now they have a chance and Morata is, undoubtedly, in safe hands.
He sees Cesc Fabregas as the one who can replicate the role which Pirlo played for him at Juventus. And certainly, Cesc is at par with the maestro.
If everything goes as planned, Antonio Conte and the boys will build a team that most European will fear to play against in the years to come.