Antonio Conte promised a “re-start” at Chelsea yesterday, and is targeting three new signings to help deliver it. Conte was speaking at his unveiling at Stamford Bridge, on just his second day of working with his new Chelsea squad.
The Italian manager said that he is determined to start a new era of success at Chelsea, after the worst season of the Roman Abramovich era. Chelsea finished 10th in the Premier League last season, after sacking Jose Mourinho in December and replacing him with Guus Hiddink.
“It is not easy,” Conte said. “After last season in tenth position, which is very very bad, you can restart and can start to try to start a new situation, to try to fight for the title. From last season, we can learn a lot.”
Conte is a training-ground manager who spoke repeatedly about “transferring his ideas” to his squad. But he also knows Chelsea need reinforcements, and said he hopes the club will make as many as three new signings before the season starts. So far this summer they have just signed Michy Batshuayi, Marseille’s Belgian forward, for £32million. But Conte is confident the players will keep coming.
“We are ready,” Conte said. “We are talking with the club and we know that this team needs to reinforce. I am sure that in the coming days we can reach our target to reinforce the team, to go closer to the other teams. In the coming days we can buy one, two or three players, I don’t know. But players who can reinforce us for the season. It will be very tough.”
To follow the Batshauyi signing, Chelsea are still hoping for another centre-forward to partner him up front. Their priority is Alvaro Morata, recently bought back from Juventus by Real Madrid, but it remains unclear whether Madrid want to keep him or sell him. Conte also wants a new defensive midfielder, and after talks collapsed for Roma’s Radja Nainggolan they have switched their attention to Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante.
Those are the players that Conte wants, although he said yesterday that there are far more important things to good teams than players alone.
“Leicester must give us a great example,” Conte said. “You can have the best talent. But you must also have a good spirit in your team, a team with good organisation and good players.
“If you have all of those things you can win. You can reach your target. I am sure about this.”
Conte’s job is to rebuild a club that experienced one of the most dramatic collapses in recent history last year, which resulted in Mourinho being sacked just seven months after winning his third Premier League title. Conte wants his players to move on from that traumatic experience and “remove the past”.
“The players know that last season was very very bad,” Conte said. “Not bad, but very very bad. Every single player knows this and wants to change the story. They want to remove the past. For us the most important thing now is to stay concentrated in the present, to work and to build a great future. Because if we remain in the past it is not good for us. It is important to see the present.”
When I arrived in Juventus, they had not won for many years. Chelsea won only one year ago, not this season but last season they won the title. For this reason the situation is different.
There is a comparison to be made with Juventus, where Conte took a team who had just finished seventh. He won three consecutive Serie A titles, starting a cycle of success which led to two more titles under Max Allegri when Conte had left. But Conte said that he hoped it would be “easier” at Chelsea, who won the league just over one year ago. When Conte took over at Juventus in 2011, they were still recovering from Calciopoli and relegation. Their last unrescinded title, under Marcelo Lippi in 2002-03, was eight years in the past.
“The situation is a bit different,” Conte said. “When I arrived in Juventus, they had not won for many years. Chelsea won only one year ago, not this season but last season they won the title. For this reason the situation is different. This situation seems easier, I hope. I hope so. But it’s important for me that I don’t change my idea, my philosophy, my methods.”
Conte is unlikely to have quite the same success at Chelsea as he did at Juventus, and would make no predictions about winning the tile. But he said that if he could convey his ideas to the players, they would do well.
“We want to go back to challenging for the title very soon,” Conte said. “We have the talented players to do this. So if we have a greater organisation and good idea of football and a good strength of team, we can achieve good results at the end of the season.”