Antonio Conte: Another victim of the Roman Empire?

Chelsea have hardly been a long-term club. If there’s any doubt about it, that can be well clarified by the how the revolving doors of management work and how the club continues to buy very young players with a promise of developing them, but the only purpose of it seems to be how the club benefits financially from their sale. And it would be very tough to pinpoint errors in Antonio Conte’s comments about the fact that it is impossible for a club to be at Stamford Bridge on a long-term basis. Except that the timing of it was crucial- following Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the decisive leg of the League Cup semi-final.

The dark clouds that are hovering around Stamford Bridge aren’t something that we have witnessed for the very first time. This seemed rather inevitable, not just with what the media has been saying about the troubles that Antonio Conte has been facing but because it was meant to be this way. And it wasn’t meant to be this way because it is Chelsea Football Club we are talking about. A club with an owner who may be responsible for bringing in all the success that it currently boasts of but is always intent on making sure that no other personality cult emerges at the club bar his very own.

Over the years, it has become a trend. Managers come and managers go. From Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez to the likes of Andre Villas-Boas and Claudio Ranieri, no one has passed the test of resilience and intolerance that Roman Abramovich poses. It is very likely that no one ever passes that test. Once a successful begins to make himself a hero amongst the Blues faithfuls, he is guillotined, for one reason or another. It isn’t to say that Abramovich is wrong or his short-termist approach is wrong, but the situation that Chelsea have on their hands is not a crisis by any means.

A couple of things that Chelsea should remember is the fact that they won the Premier League last season and as things stand, are competing on three fronts for trophies, despite being knocked out of the League Cup by Arsenal recently. They are third in the Premier League, three points behind second-placed Manchester United and while it would unrealistic to see them as a side that can still win the title, but Manchester City have succeeded in bringing about an extreme form of insecurity in the minds of the rest of the top six and Chelsea are a victim of that superiority complex that the table-toppers have brought in. Even if it wouldn’t have been there, this would have been quite a decent season for the Blues. Conte is trying so hard to push his luck whenever he talks, but it will never work out, despite this not being a crisis by any means.

And while it is obvious that the Conte effect has faded and teams have started deciphering the way Chelsea are playing ever since they lost 2-0 to Tottenham at White Hart Lane last season, but it isn’t him only that we should blame. The Italian has been going on and on about how the club has failed in the transfer market and that’s a rather unputdownable fact. And that is the reason why Chelsea are not succeeding in competing against the Manchester clubs, who have spent over 350 million pounds on transfers over the last two summer transfer windows. But the club have failed in the transfer market not because they have spent less money, but because they haven’t spent on the basis of their needs.

If there is a reason why the club won the Premier League by pipping Spurs last season was because of the absence of European exhaustions and pressures when all the other top six sides were either playing the Europa League or the Champions League. This had allowed Conte to use a very settled line-up in almost every game and there was little need for regular rotation. Things have completely changed this season. The need for regular rotation and squad depth has been a vital reason for why Conte is losing the plot. He has spent around 320 million pounds since coming in, but spending a 100 million more wouldn’t have done any harm, especially if Chelsea had to compete with the Manchester clubs.

Conte knows what he is doing but hasn’t been backed in the key areas, as he continues to decipher the politics behind transfers at Chelsea. He ended up with Alvaro Morata when he wanted Romelu Lukaku and missed out on Fernando Llorente to arch-rivals Spurs and the search for a target-man continues, with Michy Batshuayi deemed to be too unreliable to act as a second-fiddle for Morata.

That though, comes naturally with operating under an oligarch such as Abramovich, who is the most demanding owner in the whole wide world. Leave Conte, Carlo Ancelotti was axed by Abramovich for apparently favoring some of his players and being soft to them, despite winning the title in 2010. The sacking came in 2011 and the timing was crucial- just as there were signs of Ancelotti being as prominent an oligarch as Abramovich. There’s a reason why some still struggle to establish the reason why Chelsea sacked Ancelotti back in 2011.

Leave Don Carlo as well rather. Jose Mourinho, who will go down as the greatest Chelsea manager in the club’s history was handed a similar treatment, months after winning the title. Not just once but on both the occasions that he managed the club. And for Conte, it comes as something that everyone expected. It was going to happen. Sooner or later. It was a case of when rather than if. And there’s a normal sense of acceptance to it. No one will be taken aback if he gets sacked within the next two weeks.

The backroom politics and how the transfers have been handled, especially following the resignation of Michael Emenalo as the club’s technical director at a time when the Nigerian was said to be a Conte supporter. Fishy as the political game seems, all of it has contributed to Conte’s downfall. Marina Granovskaia is clearly a close Abramovich ally. The Chelsea official website mentions her close relations with Abramovich ever so openly.  Conte hates that. So much so that he is resorting to giving subtle signs in the press, hoping that he wins a battle that he will lose. The more signs he gives, the closer he will come to Abramovich taking over everything that Conte wants in his control.

And there’s little surprise in how players like Peter Crouch, Ashley Barnes and Andy Carroll are being targeted in the search for a target man. Short-termist they may seem, but Conte needs immediate solutions to fix problems. Because he knows he will be gone soon enough.

The Chelsea job always seems like a very lucrative destination, not just in terms of earnings but stature as well. That’s only from an outsider’s perspective though. Once managers get into the system and spend months in it, they realise that they are facing a mighty struggle to establish their authority. This truth dawned upon Conte a while ago. And it is now that he has realised that there is nothing he can do. And even if Chelsea end up winning the FA Cup or the Champions League and even the Premier League, don’t expect Conte to be there. He will soon join the long list of those subjects who got guillotined by the mighty emperor of the land that he so proudly owns.

Writer: Kaus Pandey

Photo: Gerard Brand