Antonio! Antonio! Antonio!

Ahead of CPO’s Evening With Antonio Conte, very special guest Antonio Conte chatted exclusively with our director and the official Chelsea FC historian, Rick Glanvill, about his new life with the Blues...

 

Rick Glanvill: How aware are you of the long association between Chelsea and Italy? Obviously there have been lots of Italian managers, but my ‘uncle’ was an Italian immigrant and a Chelsea fan. He came to England in the 1930s and, like most Italians in London, he supported Chelsea – the Azzurri!

Antonio Conte: Azzurri – like our shirt in our national team; my favourite colour is blue. I follow a lot the Chelsea. Because Chelsea always play the Italian footballers, but also managers... Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola, also Roberto Di Matteo – I played with him in the national team. Gianluca, we played a lot together for many years at Juventus. We won the Champions League together: he was my captain. When he left, I became captain. Yeah, for this reason I follow a lot this club. And then when the owner Mr Abramovich arrived, Chelsea became one of the best teams in the world.

When you had the call from the owner, did you speak with Gianluca, or Ravanelli, any of these players? Ask them “What’s Chelsea like? Is it a good place for Italians?”?

No, before I arrived at Chelsea I have spoken to Carlo Ancelotti. And then in the last six months I saw Luca Vialli – we had dinner – and also Gianfranco Zola, more times than before he became the manager of Birmingham – now he is very busy.

He likes his golf Gianfranco doesn’t he?

He’s not bad eh? Not bad. No, but Carlo Cudicini is better!

So what did they say about Chelsea? Did they say you’ll enjoy it at Chelsea, it’s a good place for Italians to live?

I enjoy a lot this experience in Chelsea. It’s my first experience, for me, my family...

To live abroad?

Yeah. And honestly it wasn’t easy, overall, at the start. But I’m trying now to get into the habits. I’m lucky to stay in London, to live a good reality in Chelsea, because it’s a place you can see if you want to work, you can work. You have a fantastic training ground, you have an owner, Mr Abramovich, who stays very close to our teams and wants to know a lot. It’s good this: I like to have sometimes a conversation about football.

You talk a lot about “work work work.” What about play? How have you enjoyed London with your family?

In this period, a little. Because these six/seven months, I worked a lot, and then my family stay in Italy, and I think to enjoy London I need to have my wife and my daughter. Because when they stay here, they brought me to visit the museums and to visit the centre of London. I need to have my wife; my wife is a cicerone, you know a person that bring you to visit [a sight] and explains the situation. A guida: a guide.

Oh really. So she can explain everything when you go to a museum?

Yeah, just because she likes a lot to inform, to study a new city, a new situation that we are living.

When have you found Carlo Cudicini most helpful in avoiding problematic situations?

Honestly Carlo is helping me a lot. He is staying with me a lot of time in my day. He is also my teacher in English. After every press conference or interview, he always tries to tell me the mistakes to correct. Then sometimes to explain the situation in the right way, or with the players, with the club. He is helping me a lot and he’s a really good guy. He’s a really good professional.


You have won the league many times. What are the vital signs for you during a season that tell you you have a team that will win the title?

I think to win, not only one game, but to win … not one [battle] but the whole war it is important to create a good spirit. To create a team, and to try to exploit every single player, the talent of every single player in the best way. And for this reason to find the right solution, the right system, to create a family spirit, a good spirit. And then in the negative moments it’s important to have a family. If you have a family, you solve the situation and then can go forward. I think this is very important to win the league: to create a team, to create a good spirit with your team, and for sure to have good players.

Are there also moments when you have a very hard game – get a draw, a late goal, something like that – and your rivals drop points. Are they signs of a winning team?

Yes. Last game, against Liverpool, for example, you could be disappointed for the final result: the draw, you miss a penalty at the 76th minute.  Then, you played against a really tough team, it seems in this day that you could lose points with your rivals. Instead it happened that Arsenal lost the game, Tottenham drew, United drew and only Manchester City won the game. I think it’s very important to look at ourselves, in these moments. It’s important to win. If we win, it’s not important the other result, it’s important only our result.


You say you don’t pay much attention to records but, beyond the points gained, what are the benefits of a record winning run, like the ones you engineered at Juve and Chelsea?

When you win 13 games in a row, it seems that you increase your confidence, then send a bad message to your rivals. If you stay behind, and you see every game the other team wins, you put a lot of pressure on teams that want to fight for the title with us. It was important overall for us to win 13 games in a row to increase the confidence, to forget two bad defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal. But I think also it’s important not to forget totally the two defeats, because when you lose the game you can learn a lot. And I think we learnt a lot.

On recent transfer fees, you said, ’We are talking about an amount of money which is not right.’ Where does your conviction about this come from? Upbringing? Faith?

I had a young education very tough with my parents. They learn me… no they teach me always the real value of the money, and to understand money is very important but not all. I think it’s not easy for the players, for the manager, whenever they have a really good offer, to refuse this offer. When you sign in a team like Chelsea, for example, and it’s a good situation, you can work, stay with your family. And I repeat the money is important, but not all.

You seem to have a special affinity with the Chelsea fans.

They are incredible! I remember my first game against West Ham they prepared the flag with three colours, the Italy flag, the Tricolore. And then they showed me very soon great enthusiasm, great passion. For me it’s fantastic to hear my name during the game, at home or away. Sometimes I’m embarrassed, but it’s fantastic.

Honestly the first time happen, with Everton, my assistant coach called me to tell me, “Mister, the crowd is singing for you.” And then I understood: “Antonio Antonio Antonio… ”

 

"Away, [the fans] are incredible. In Liverpool – believe me, it is very difficult to hear the other fans, the opposition fans – and there were 3,000 of our fans, and they pushed a lot our team."

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Did you have that as a player?

Yeah, yeah. You must know I played 13 years at Juventus. I’m a legend at Juventus, and then I also was the manager, and I brought again the team to win the title after a lot of time.

What song did they sing for you, the Juventus fans?

[Sings] “Senza di te non andremo lontano. Antonio Conte, il nostro capitano. Alle alle alle alle alle alle Antonio Conte.” [“Without you we will not go far. Antonio Conte, our captain.”]

We will try to sing this for you at Stamford Bridge!

Yeah? [Laughs.]

In what ways did you celebrate your Juve successes? How would you celebrate a title win with the Blues?

For me it was important, the first ever Scudetto in my career as a manager. As a footballer I won five, and to win the first Scudetto as manager was incredible for me. I celebrated a lot with my family, with the fans, with the players. Honestly, I hope to have this satisfaction to win the league in England. It would be fantastic for me, and I think I can realise a dream for me. I know that it won’t be easy, but we are working a lot to realise this dream. When it happens, I’m ready for every celebration for the fans.

Did you see Carlo Ancelotti's celebration song on the open top bus in 2010?

[Laughs] Yeah yeah. But I want to overcome Carlo in this celebration and singing, and for sure I am able to overcome him in this celebration, but only if we can realise this dream. 

You are a better singer than Carlo Ancelotti?

I’m sure I’ll eventually celebrate this situation, with great passion, with great enthusiasm. But I hope we must know that it will be very difficult.


The fans must push the team all the way. You always say that. Why is it so important?

Yeah, really important to push. I hope during the season all the time at home we try to push too. Away, they are incredible. In Liverpool – believe me, it is very difficult to hear the other fans, the opposition fans – and there were 3,000 of our fans, and they pushed a lot our team. That was incredible. It’s fantastic to see this. I hope also in Stamford Bridge to have the same.

(With thanks to Ollie Glanvill.)

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