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The Weekend Interview part one: Antonio Conte

It is four months since Antonio began working at Chelsea and a good time to speak to the official Chelsea website about the progress made and about how he is settling into west London life…

 

This weekend Antonio Conte is able to enjoy a thoroughly well-earned rest from guiding his Chelsea team through match action.

Work, and especially working hard, are phrases never far from the lips of our head coach when he discusses how his first season in London is progressing, and no-one could accuse Conte of not leading by example.

A midfielder famed for his energy as well as his technique and tactical nous, he has taken that on into his managerial career where his animated instructions from inside the technical area are already one of the most well-known sights of today’s Premier League, leading to a joke or two about him almost joining in with the pressing of the opposition defence.

What is clear from Conte’s words before and after games, and his activity on the touchline, is that Chelsea at the moment is a work in progress, but with an outstanding October followed by that stellar opening to November’s fixtures against Everton, it is a project currently coming along nicely.

It is four months since it began, and the perfect moment for Conte to speak to the official Chelsea website about the progress made and about how he is settling into west London life – questions he begins by considering together.

‘Now for four months we have been working very hard with the players and I enjoy this,’ he says.

‘It is not easy to arrive in a new club and to find out about a new country, a new language, and also you have to bring your new method, your new philosophy of football. But after four months I am pleased about it all, because the players always have shown me a great attitude, a great work-rate during the training sessions and also during the games.

The club is very close to me and it supports me. The fans are fantastic when we play at home and away so yes, I am pleased.

Given the intensity with which Conte concentrates and directs during the 90 minutes of match action, it is understandable he did not realise the fans were frequently singing, ‘Antonio, Antonio,’ during the 5-0 win last weekend until pointed out by one of his assistants. After the game he described it as fantastic and thanked the supporters.

Away from the intensity of the match, even when discussing it not long after the final whistle, Conte cuts a calmer figure and it is no surprise he reacted to the bad results against Liverpool and Arsenal in such a methodical and flexible way. 

Initial misconceptions from some observers that he is wedded to one system of play that yielded success with past teams have quickly been banished. Conte explained early in the season he was prepared to try different formations and would continue to do so until the goals stopped going in at the wrong end. Happily, it has not taken long.

‘We started the season with another system because the idea in my mind was that I wanted to play with the 4-2-4, and then we switched with 4-3-3 and we played also in the same way like last year, 4-2-3-1.

‘But I noticed in some circumstances we didn’t have the right balance because when you concede more goals than your opponent and even more chances to score a goal, it is never a good thing. For this reason, we switched to the new system of 3-4-3 and I think this is a good fit for our squad because also we have the strikers adapted for this system.

‘I thought it would improve us offensively as well as defensively and we didn’t lose our offensive situation. In this way we have increased it because we scored many goals and created a lot of chances to score the goals and also if you maintain the clean sheet, I think this is the right way.’

When Conte decided to switch to a back-three, he did so not with the 3-5-2 of his Italy side but instead the 3-4-3 he announced in advance in a press conference would be his Chelsea choice. The type of attacking players in the squad determined this.

It is further evidence he is tactically flexible, as is a comparable time earlier in his management career when he took over a Bari side mid-season that were shipping goals before Conte stemmed the tie with a different solution.

‘When I arrived in Bari I remember the position in the table was very bad. We were in the three at the bottom but I always trust in my work and at Bari we played with the 4-2-4. In the first season we achieved good results. The next season we were promoted to Serie A and we still played with the 4-2-4.’

It has pleased Conte a lot that even though he is now working away from the famously tactically sophisticated Italian league, his current players have proved so quickly adaptable.

‘The first time I changed to this system was against Arsenal for the last 25 minutes, and then we continued with this idea of football. For sure in this month we have developed, we have worked a lot on this system, and for sure I have to say thanks to my players because they had the right concentration, the right attitude, the right will to stay more than before in the training sessions and now it is easier than one month ago. But we know we can improve a lot on different aspects - the pressure on the ball, quickly being more compact - for sure we have to improve.

‘I think in England something is changing because there are different coaches from different countries and they are bringing new different ideas and new methods and new philosophies of football, and I think this is very good for the English league.

‘In the pre-season I preferred to work on the concept, on the principles and then you develop the system of play, but I always knew this squad could play with this 3-4-3 system. In my mind there was this possibility.

‘I knew the characteristic of the players and for this reason when I spoke to the club and we planned the season, this system was an alternative to the 4-2-4.’

In Italy Conte earned praise for the way he encouraged the best out of previously less-heralded players such as Stephan Lichtsteiner and Andrea Barzagli at Juventus and for Italy, Emanuele Giaccherini and Eder.

Now at Chelsea he seems on a similar path with Victor Moses and fresh-signing Marcos Alonso. There is more to top management than simply getting the formation right. 

‘I think that a manager must improve his players,’ Conte agrees. ‘It is important to work with the team but also one-to-one to bring out the talent of the players, to improve the weaknesses and become strengthened.

‘Here at Chelsea we have a lot of talent but now we are working a lot with these players and I am pleased to see the great attitude and the great will to improve, and to play for the team because when you want to win something important, it is important to be a team.’

It is a way of thinking Conte applies to his backroom assistants as well.

‘In my staff I have many people and I prefer to give them their responsibilities because I think it is important to have direct relationships with each player, especially to explain the physical work,’ he details.

‘It is important this type of work is done directly with the player, and to explain to them if someone wants to know why we do this type of work.

‘So I have two coaches for the physical work, two for the metabolic work and one for the strength work, and then I have two assistant coaches and also my brother who helps me to prepare for the games with analysis studying the opponent and studying our game.

‘I also have Carlo Cudicini who is helping me and the other staff a lot with his experience because he knows the club well and for sure he is a person very important at this moment. He is helping to create a good relationship with the players.

‘Communication is very important. It is important not only the manager but the staff feel their responsibility. The manager is the boss but you must give the opportunity to your staff to exploit their knowledge.

‘It is important when you are in a great team to have good staff to help you in every moment of the day.’ 

- In part two tomorrow, Antono Conte talks about his life in a new country and about some famous names who made the same journey earlier. 

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