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Conte: Here on merit

After his first few days working with Nathan Ake, Antonio Conte says he likes what he sees.

The young Dutchman was recalled from his loan at Bournemouth on Sunday and joined up with Conte’s group earlier this week. His return was a subject of major interest at today’s press conference at Cobham, with the journalists present also asking our boss about tomorrow’s opponents, Leicester City, and his compatriot Claudio Ranieri.

Congratulations were in order first after Conte picked up a third straight Premier League Manager of the Month award.

‘Thanks,’ he smiled. ‘It’s a great honour for me, a great pleasure for me and for my players and my staff.

‘This award is not for me, it’s for all. I want to share this award with my players and my staff. It means we are working very well. This award pushes me a lot to work more, to improve myself and my players and my team.’

Conte then reported he had a couple of players to check on ahead of the trip to the East Midlands but didn’t want to say who in case he gave Ranieri an advantage.

Next on the agenda was Ake.

‘I’m very pleased for him to stay with us. In this one-year-and-a-half he has improved a lot. This shows that it’s important for a young player born in the Academy to go and play on loan, and then, when they are ready, come back and play with us.

‘Ake is a really good example. He is a good player, very young but with a good personality. He can play as a central defender, in the middle or on the left, he could play as a wing-back. It’s important now to work with us. He’s trained with us only a few days. It’s important for him to have a bit of time to go into our idea of football and adapt, and then be under consideration.

‘In these days I tried him as a central defender,’ Conte continued, looking at this week and Ake’s potential role in more detail.

‘It’s important for me to have a bit of time with him to know him better, and to try to find out the best position for him. He can play in different roles and it’s very important for us he is able to do that.

‘This makes me more calm in the January market. The first impressions are a lot of positives. He has good personality and he’s mature. It’s not a gift for him. I don’t like to give gifts. Somebody must deserve to come back.’

Conte added he still had to decide whether or not Ake would be on the bench tomorrow.

Definitely sitting in the opposite dugout will be Ranieri, an opponent for the third time already this term and this week named the FIFA Coach of the Year. Our boss expects another tough challenge from him and his players.

‘Claudio is a really great manager, a great man. I am proud to know him and sometimes to call him to speak. He did a great job last season and not only then.

‘I knew him when he was coach in Italy, at Chelsea, at Valencia. He’s a great coach and he deserves this [award]. He did a great job. I’m pleased for him.

‘I am not surprised [at Leicester’s position] because this league is very tough,’ added Conte. ‘I consider them a really good team with good players, strong players, players with talent and technique, a good mix. They have a great manager. It can happen in this league. Don’t forget Chelsea last season.

‘The Leicester game is very important for us to restart to win. Leicester are the champions from last season, they have a lot of good players with good quality, they have impressed me.’

As usual, there were transfer-related queries. Conte said John Terry won’t be leaving and described Ake as like a new signing. He also spoke about Charly Musonda, the young Belgian winger who has shone for our youth teams in the past and who is currently training with the first team after his loan at Real Betis ended. 

‘Charly is a good prospect. He has the quality to become a great player. For this reason, it’s a good opportunity for him and for me to work in this five months with him and try to improve him.

‘If he shows me this month he deserves to play, he will go into the team. I like this type of player and I want to work with this player. I see this player for the present and for the future.’