Another press conference, another opportunity to criticise his club. Yet again, Antonio Conte took the chance.
Following Chelsea’s Carabao Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal, Conte claimed he does not make any of the transfer decisions and that his input into the process is limited.
It was eye-opening and, essentially, it was Conte vs Chelsea. And when that happens in west London, there can be only one winner.
Antonio Conte shows his customary passion on the touchline at the Emirates Stadium as he watched Chelsea’s Carabao Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal on Wednesday night
After the game Conte bemoaned his lack of influence over transfers and his small squad
After securing the title in his first season in England, it now seems sure that this will be the Italian’s last at Stamford Bridge. The signs are there.
‘From the summer, the club decides every single player,’ Conte said on Wednesday night. ‘There are different situations, sometimes I have an impact on this and sometimes I don’t have an impact.
‘My first task is to do my job and be a coach, and to try to improve my players.
‘For sure, I don’t have a big impact in the transfer market.’
These comments will not go down well in the Chelsea boardroom, where they insist their transfer strategy is based on the wish-list of their coach. It seems Conte disagrees.
How did it get to this? Conte became a Premier League champion in his very first year, wowing so many managers that they started to mimic his 3-4-3 tactics.
He did it with a small squad, using only 24 players in 2016-17. Conte created momentum but now feels he was not backed to take the next step.
They wanted Romelu Lukaku but Manchester United stole a march on them. Conte wanted Leonardo Bonucci but that came to nothing. He wanted Alex Sandro too and he was never secured from Juventus.
Conte also said Ross Barkley was his only feasible substitute for the injured Willian
Back in October, when Chelsea lost to the Premier League’s bottom club Crystal Palace, who broke a seven-game losing streak at Selhurst Park, Conte vented his frustration.
‘The situation is very clear,’ Conte said when asked about the size of his squad. ‘My job is to be focused on my work with my players – to try and do our best. It won’t be easy.’
CHELSEA BOSSES AXED BY RUTHLESS ABRAMOVICH
Jose Mourinho (twice)
Luiz Felipe Scolari
Guus Hiddink (twice)
Roberto Di Matteo
Conte likes power but all season long has been putting out digs, hinting that he has not been supported the way he should have been.
It is worth remembering that the relationship between Conte and his board became strained in the summer because of the Italian’s decision to tell Diego Costa he was no longer needed – via text message. That was despite fan favourite Costa’s 20 goals leading them to the Premier League title.
So Chelsea did not sign a number of Conte’s targets in the summer and in January now have only secured Ross Barkley, who debuted at the Emirates Stadium as a substitute for hamstrung Willian.
‘When there is an injury to one of your best players it is not simple,’ Conte also said on Wednesday night. ‘Especially when on the bench the only substitute is Ross Barkley.’
Another dig at the size of his squad.
Roman Abramovich (right) has no problem sacking managers, as Jose Mourinho knows well
The departure of Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo in November has not helped, of course. With no replacement lined up, Marina Granovskaia continues to wield her considerable executive power in the meantime.
Left-back Emerson Palmieri is set to join and Chelsea are still in talks over the potential signing of striker Edin Dzeko from Roma.
Yet Conte, no doubt, will feel that is still not enough. Indeed the last year has not been easy for Chelsea fans, who are unsure what to believe.
Even the news of Conte signing a new £19.2million contract in July lifted eyebrows because it was not an extension.
It was better for him financially but only stretched to 2019, when Conte’s original contract was due to expire anyway.
Now, it will be surprising if he even makes it that far.
Director Marina Granovskaia wields much of the power over Chelsea’s transfer dealings