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The Weekend Interview part two: Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte today talks about his life in a new country and about some famous names who made the same journey earlier… 

Antonio Conte is one of nominations for October’s Premier League Manager of the Month award and will discover whether he is the winner towards the end of the week. His team are in-form and just one point off the top of the Premier League table.

It is going well on the pitch and our head coach discussed that in part one of the interview yesterday, but what about away from football? This is the first time the 47-year-old who was so successful as a player and manager in Italy has lived and worked away from his homeland. He has not found a great deal of time to think about that, but he is able here to share some initial thoughts about his new life in London.

‘This is a good challenge for me, and for my wife and my daughter, because this is the first time for me working in a country with another language, with different habits and also a different method of work, but I am enthusiastic about this experience because I think I arrive in the right moment of my life. 

‘I want to have this new challenge because I couldn’t do this when I was a footballer and to do this as a coach is great, as is staying in a country which is very nice in many aspects.

‘However, for me it is a bit difficult now to enjoy London as usually when you arrive in a new club it is important to put the job for me and my staff above all else in this first period. For this reason I am enjoying only a little of London. I hope in the future to explore London better, but for now I prefer to be concentrated on the work.’

That does not mean Conte is yet to see the famous sights of our capital city. He and his wife spent a holiday here two years ago when they visited the museums and got a feel for the place.

Now the closest he has to a leisure occupation is discovering some of London’s restaurants. He has found some Italian eateries to his taste in Chelsea and Fulham but also enjoys other cuisines, Japanese especially, with a couple sushi restaurants already favourites.

‘And in England the meat is very good,’ he adds. ‘Great chicken and the red meat is fantastic, also the vegetables, and the strawberries in summer.’

Conte is recognised when he is out and about.

‘Sometimes this happens, above all if I go for a walk in Chelsea, and there are many Italian people here, but it is good and I have seen a lot of respect shown to the players and to me. I appreciate it a lot.

‘But my main hobby now is to spend time with my family, my wife and my daughter, when they are here. For now they stay in Italy and every weekend they come here and stay with me. Always they come to games and when we play at home they sit behind me and I want this. I want to feel their support.’

At this time of year it’s a classic subject to raise with someone new to working in the English game. Christmas is fast approaching and that means only one thing – football, football and more football.

‘I am curious about this,’ Conte admits. ‘This is the first time my team will play during the Christmas and New Year and I am very keen to discover about this.

‘This Christmas I will be in England with all my family, not only my wife and daughter, but also my father and mother and my brothers together. For sure it will be a new Christmas for us.’

In this he will be following in the footsteps of other stars of the Italian game who joined Chelsea and enjoyed the festive football, not least two he knows very well – Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola.

‘With Gianluca I played a lot at Juventus and we won a lot. I remember him very well because he was my captain when we won the Champions League, and he was a fantastic player and is a fantastic man. He was very important for us because he was a real captain.

‘The captain must always be an example for his team-mates. If he plays or if he doesn’t play, he must always stay in the middle in the changing room as an example. He must help the coach, he must help the club and above all when the situation is not easy. It is important the coach and the club and also the players see the captain as the person that can help in this situation.’

Zola was both a team-mate and an opponent of Conte, and indeed the Sardinian’s Parma side beat Juventus to the 1995 UEFA Cup although having been captain and scored in the semi-final, Conte missed the final.

‘Gianfranco was a great opponent because at that time Parma was a title contender and they had an amazing team with Asprilla and Dino Baggio and a lot of good players.

‘With Italy we played together in a fantastic World Cup in 1994 when the team lost the final against Brazil on penalties,’ recalls the Chelsea boss, ‘but I remember it very well because the referee sent Gianfranco off in an incredible way in one of the games. Zola didn’t deserve it and I remember he was so disappointed, but he is a very good guy and in December I went to the Middle East for a meeting and I went to see him with the team he was with. We went to dinner together.

‘Now I speak with him on the phone but I hope to see him soon to have dinner again. I hope to see Gianluca as well soon but I repeat, I am very concentrated with the team and it is difficult for me to find spare time to see them,’

So was there ever a time when Conte came close to joining the others in their move from Serie A to playing in the Premiership?

‘Once I had an opportunity to come but then it did not happen. But now, as a coach, I am in time to have this fantastic experience.’  

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