It is incredible how Antonio Conte has managed to hold on to his job as manager of Chelsea for so long, considering Roman Abramovich’s history at the club. The Russian has hardly stood for too much before pulling the plug, and the Italian has certainly lost the plot at Stamford Bridge this season.
It is still not 100% certain that Conte will be shown the door, but one would assume that the club is just waiting for the right replacement. However, they are in short supply at the moment. Tomas Tuchel was unveiled as the new Paris Saint-Germain boss last week, while Maurizio Sarri may very well be close to signing a contract extension at Napoli. No solid reports have emerged linking Carlo Ancelotti, Leonardo Jardim or Luis Enrique to the job. Things will become clearer in the days to come, but the club would be intent on finding a replacement before the World Cup starts in mid-June.
If not, then we could be seeing something completely novel happening at the club since Abramovich’s takeover in 2003. If Conte does stay for another season, he will have been given the kind of time no other manager before him has in West London. At the moment, with no talks of the Italian’s dismissal whatsoever, that possibility cannot be discounted.
Conte led Chelsea to an incredible title-winning season last year, revolutionizing English football by adopting a three-man defence. Other managers followed suit, but the system soon ran out of fashion as teams learnt how to place against it. Despite this, The Blues boss stuck to his guns, but things have gone way downhill. After ruling the land last year, Chelsea missed out on Champions League qualification for next season by finishing the 2017/18 campaign in 5th. This is after being 2nd at Christmas, before a torrid start to the New Year saw Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur overtake them in the table.
More than the slump in form, it is the manner in which it has happened that has irked Chelsea fans. Conte was a livewire on the touchlines last season, celebrating every goal like his life depended on it and also incessantly shouting instructions at his players even after a game had been won. This season, he has been a shadow of that man. There is no passion, and just disinterest. That has, of course, translated onto the pitch, as Chelsea have on several occasions started well, taken the lead and then just petered out to lose the match. Inexplicable team selections, and waiting near the end of games to make substitutions have also been well-publicised criticisms that the supporters have had against their manager.
Also, Conte bemoaned the lack of signings again and again through the season, even though Chelsea spent the second-highest amount in the last transfer window after Manchester City. Apart from Andreas Christensen, there was no integration of the youth system either. The Blues arguably have the best set of youngsters in the whole of the country, winning their fifth FA Youth Cup in a row this season. There is also a preponderance of deadwood in the squad, and it is difficult to see how the likes of Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Emerson Palmieri or Pedro will have any future at the club no matter who comes in.
It will surely be a breath of fresh air to see Chelsea giving their manager a second chance. But the question is whether they will do so on their own accord, or because no one else is available. If Conte can’t change his attitude and forge a turnaround next season, it is difficult to see him surviving into 2019.