Horncastle: Relentless Conte can turn Chelsea into winners

conte dà indicazioni nelle vesti di tecnico della juventus
04 April at 16:25

Chelsea have named Antonio Conte as their coach for next season and the players whose locker is next to the dressing room door at Stamford Bridge could be advised to find another place to get changed.

Andrea Pirlo soon learned that the same position at the J Stadium was “the most dangerous spot in all of Turin” particularly at half time. Whomever it concerns on the Chelsea squad, don’t say you haven’t been warned. “Antonio would come in even when we were winning and pick up anything he could find - usually bottles of water - and throw them against the wall. He turned into an animal.” 

 

Conte, as Pirlo relates in his book, doesn’t care whether it’s a Sunday league or Champions League game. He expects the same intensity. The same commitment. There can be absolutely no let up. “There was this one time we were losing against Milan,” Pirlo recalls, “and he just couldn’t understand it: ‘We’re losing to them. THEM! How are we not winning?! They’re awful.” 
 


There are no ifs or buts with Conte. He has to win. No one identified better with the Juventus motto: “Winning isn’t important. It’s the only thing that counts.” The pursuit of victory gets to the essence of him. Conte even named his daughter Vittoria. “For me the difference between winning and losing is the same between living and dying,” he said. He sees the game exclusively in these terms. Every defeat is to die a little inside and Conte fights it as if fighting for his life. His record at Juventus was: coached 151, won 102, drawn 35, lost 15. 

 

“If I had to go to war. I would take Conte with me,” Arturo Vidal tweeted last year. He is a Condottiero. A military leader. Explaining, in general, why he turned Juventus down on three occasions, Antonio Cassano said: “They want little soldiers.” With Conte, the players were drilled hard. It made Juventus “professionals, not little soldiers,” Leonardo Bonucci hit back. He’d have them doing hours and hours of shadow training so that their shape, the movements they needed to make, and patterns of defence and attack all became second nature. 

“If Arrigo Sacchi is a genius, what does that make Conte?” Pirlo asked. “I had a feeling he’d be good but not this good. I thought I was getting a tough, committed, charismatic kind of coach but plenty of other managers could learn a lot tactically from Conte.” The cult of a leader began to take hold not only because he delivered on his promise to make a team that had finished 7th in back-to-back seasons champions of Italy but also because games went exactly how he told the players they’d go. “He can see in advance what might happen in the 45 minutes still to come,” Pirlo marvelled. A master strategist. 

Comparisons with Jose Mourinho are not lacking. Conte picks battles. He seeks out enemies, both real and pretend. He likes a siege mentality. “Now that they’re showering you with praise, I’m beginning to get worried,” Conte told his Juventus players in a famous training ground huddle. It was his first season. They were unbeaten and on the brink of reclaiming the Scudetto for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal. “Why am I worried? Because I see that some of you are relaxing. You’re getting all the applause. They’re writing about you. Everyone’s getting behind you. That’s great. But what’s the reality? The reality is out there on the pitch. The reality is our sweat, our sacrifice. That’s what has got us this far, but we haven’t done nothing yet.” If Milan wanted to take the Scudetto from Juventus now, he concluded, “they will have to spit blood.” 



No one has dethroned the Old Lady since. She went undefeated in Conte’s first season. Put up more points, scored more goals and conceded fewer in his second. Then went perfect at home and became the first team ever to break the 100-point barrier in Serie A in his final year. Juventus were on 99 going into the final day of the season. Cagliari visited the J Stadium. The title had been wrapped up. A party atmosphere surrounded the game. But Conte was in no mood to celebrate. He wished to make history. Mourinho’s Real Madrid and Pep’s Barça had finished seasons with more than a 100 points. He wanted to join them. 

A team meeting was called to go through the tactics for the Cagliari game. Gigi Buffon was late for it, but only by a minute. “Coach,” he said. “Can I have a moment. Beppe [Marotta, Juventus’ general manager] wants to go through our bonuses.” Conte didn’t let him finish the sentence. He lost it and, in front of everybody, began to rip his captain to shreds. The meeting was cancelled.

“Everyone out on the training pitch now,” Conte said. “There’ll be no video session. Out with you. Didn’t you hear me? Out! You should be ashamed.” Conte had spotted an opportunity to shock the team out of any possible complacency. The following day they trounced Cagliari. Pirlo, Fernando Llorente and Claudio Marchisio all scored in a 3-0 win. Juventus triumphed and finished the season on 102 points. Their place in posterity secure. “If that’s what was required in order to get us to realise an aim then I’m fine with it,” Buffon admitted. “I’m happy to have been the target. I too would have used the same trick to get us to give our best.” 

Utterly relentless, that relentlessness is precisely what Chelsea will need in a league that will definitely have Pep and maybe Mourinho back in it next season. 


@JamesHorncastle

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