Antonio Conte's Champions League aspirations: A 'Bridge' too far?
Antonio Conte and the Champions League are two intersecting lines which would be better off staying parallel, because despite the Italian's repeated skirmishes with the competition, glory in the biggest club football tournament, always seems to elude him.
He is a master tactician, at leading his team to the summit of any league in Europe, but the challenge of going into a knockout fixture always seems to be too overwhelming for the former Juventus manager.
On the back of elimination from the Champions League yet again, at the hands of Barcelona and the twinkling feet of Leo Messi, we've decided to foray into the rather forgettable history of Conte's European endeavours.
Unrivaled in the League; unimaginative in Europe?
Conte has delivered when it comes to winning league titles. Getting a break with Juventus in Italy, the Italian made sure he made the most of the opportunity by winning a hat-trick of League titles for the Old Lady.
This caught the attention of the cash-splurging billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club who wasted no time in replacing the once-revered Jose Mourinho as manager.
Conte proved his worth again, and then some, managing the Blues in a remarkable turnaround season to lift the Premier League trophy in his first attempt. This made it four league titles in 4 league campaigns. Remarkable stuff!
Success in the league, which is pretty much guaranteed under the Italian, comes with equally certain failure in Europe. In both spells at Juve and Chelsea, the manager of the reigning Premier League Champions has been involved in 23 games in the Champions League and has won just 9. Those are shocking numbers in all honesty.
UEFA Champions League '12/13: Luck to blame?
Conte didn't have the best start to his life in Europe - probably an indicator of what was to follow - as he was held in the first two matches by, then reigning Champions, Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk.
He did finally manage to beat them in the return fixtures (3-0 against Chelsea and 0-1 against Donetsk) of the group stages before overcoming Celtic (5-0 on aggregate) in the first round of knock-outs.
His team's progress was halted in the next stage by eventual champions Bayern Munich - who won thanks to a last-gasp winner by Arjen Robben in the final.
Bad luck for Conte in his first campaign in Europe, drawing the best team in the competition in the quarters. The eventual champions romped past Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semis - a measure of just how good they were that year.
Ironically, Arsenal were the only side who kept pace with the Germans bowing out in the round of 16 on away goals, after it ended 3-3 on aggregate. Their only loss in the knock-outs came against the same side 0-2 at the Allianz Arena.
Conte would have felt buoyant, in hindsight, of his chances in the following campaign, but European glory wasn't quite done messing about with him just yet.
UEFA Champions League '13/14: 'It never rains but it bloody snows for Conte, in Europe'
Conte's second season in the Champions League must've left him hoping, that bad luck of the previous year should've repeated itself. In that case, he would at least have an excuse for his side's dismal showing in the competition.
Juve never got out of first gear, and as a result, never got out of the group stage.
P6 W1 D3 L2
Consecutive draws against FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray got things underway, followed by a defeat and a draw against Real Madrid. Conte finally tasted victory in t he penultimate game of the group-stage against Copenhagen in Turin, but then shockingly lost away to Galatasaray.
You see what was meant about Conte hoping it was bad luck that screwed him over rather than his side doing the screwing?
Conte packed his bags and never returned to European club competition till this season.
UEFA Champions League '17/18: Conte gets his wish, and Messi gets his revenge
Conte is back in Europe!
Oh wait.. He's already been made to leave, hasn't he? Ok, fine.
Conte was back in Europe!
After a hiatus of 3 years, the Italian had another crack at winning one of the most prestigious sporting titles in the world. But the Italian should've guessed what would be in-store for him. Either a replay of the greatest hits of Footballing bad-luck, or a shocking display of apathy on the part of his players.
As it turned out, it was the
best worst of both worlds..
Like it wasn't bad enough that the only time Chelsea failed to qualify for any tournament in Europe in over two decades, Conte found himself in the manager's chair. To add to his misery, he was faced with the task of beating Barcelona, with Messi at his mesmerising best, in the first round of fixtures. And I'm certain you can guess where the plot is headed.
Conte crashed out of Europe once again, and his struggle for European supremacy seems far from over.
Juventus meanwhile, under Allegri, have been enjoying some terrific luck in Europe as they came form behind at Wembley, to beat a red-hot Tottenham side, despite failing to dictate the game.
This, in addition to two Champions League finals in three seasons since Conte moved to Stamford Bridge.
Therefore, I think it's fair to assume that Antonio Conte, for all the successes he's enjoyed in the League, always seems to find glory in Europe's most elite competition, a 'Bridge' too far!