Happy Christmas to Blues fans all over the world! Our contribution to the festivities is a special two-part interview we conducted with Antonio Conte, with the second instalment to follow at New Year.
We start by discovering more about our boss’s managerial history, his coaching strategy and, first, his day-to-day routine…
The holiday season is a time for celebration and reflection. And for Chelsea supporters, there has been so much to savour since Antonio Conte took over in the summer of 2016.
Of course the highlight so far arrived in May, when we won our sixth top-flight title with a record number of Premier League victories. It was not only the familiar taste of silverware that felt so good; the thrilling and unexpected manner in which we secured it added to the sense of achievement.
Conte has been at the heart of it all. He has found, this season and last, ‘the best dress’ for his team, as he put it. He has got the most out of his star players, such as Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, as well as members of the squad who were initially less heralded, like Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses.
"For a coach, the work is very tough, but at the same time you get great satisfaction when you see your team play in the way you like."
His buzzword, work, has not changed from the day he arrived. Work, work, work. We see the outcome of his and the players’ efforts every matchday, but what exactly does a typical day at the training ground entail for Antonio Conte?
‘My day starts with breakfast, sometimes at my house, sometimes in the canteen at Cobham,’ he tells us.
‘Then I prepare for the training session ahead with my coaching staff. After that, we organise a meeting with the players, to look at different tactical and technical aspects. Then we go out to training.’
Conte lives and breathes every moment of every session at Cobham, an animated presence full of insight and ideas. He expects his players to match his energy and enthusiasm, and he stresses it is the small details on the training pitch that can make the difference at the weekend.
He still takes care of his own fitness, too.
‘After the training session I run for 30 minutes, to keep my form in a good way, and if there is the necessity to play, I am ready!
‘Then usually I have lunch in the canteen. After this, sometimes me and my staff watch videos or prepare videos together, or I have meetings with my staff.’
Much of the video work Conte oversees centres on our forthcoming opponents and set-piece routines. They are repeated to the players on the morning of the match.
In-depth video analysis was not common when a 16-year-old Antonio Conte made his debut for Lecce in Serie A in the mid-1980s, but there are managerial methods he recalls from his early days in the professional game that he uses to this day.
‘As a player, I was very lucky to have so many good managers in my career. I remember the first two at Lecce: Eugenio Fascetti and Carlo Mazzone. They were very important for me and my growth.
‘They used the carrot and the stick with me. I brought this type of management with me to use with my players. Sometimes you must use the stick, and sometimes you must use the carrot.
‘I prefer to use the carrots! But sometimes it’s a necessity to be strong. When someone makes a mistake, it’s right to underline this type of situation, and find the best solution to avoid the same mistake in the future.’
Conte then reels off a list of coaches he later played under, at Juventus and with the Italian national team: Arrigo Sacchi, Marcello Lippi, Dino Zoff, Giovanni Trappatoni, Carlo Ancelotti. It is a veritable who’s who of some of the greatest managers in recent times. He continues to speak with some of them to canvass opinions and share experiences.
That education, during Italian football’s zenith, helped mould Antonio Conte the player, Antonio Conte the man, Antonio Conte the coach, and Antonio Conte the manager. It was his decision to undertake his managerial initiation in Italy’s lower leagues rather than aiming straight for the top.
‘Often a player who had a great career thinks they can become a manager quickly,’ he explains.
‘But it is one thing to play, and one thing to be a coach. They’re totally different. You must try to have the right experience before you can reach a fantastic target.
‘For this reason, I preferred to start lower down, and also to have disappointments. When I started, in my first experience as a manager at Arezzo in Serie B, the club sacked me after nine games. Then, they recalled me for the last part of the season. It was very important for me, this experience.
‘Whether you work with the best players in the world or lower down, it’s always difficult to transfer your footballing philosophy,’ adds Conte.
‘You have to work a lot on tactics, on analysis videos, on technical aspects, and then you have to work a lot on the mentality of your players. It’s about trying to transfer your ideas and your mentality. For a coach, the work is very tough, but at the same time you get great satisfaction when you see your team play in the way you like.’
Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, Conte has seen his Chelsea team consistently perform in the manner he wants, and he will be hoping for more of the same in the coming days as we take on Brighton, Stoke and Arsenal in quick succession. Football at Christmas is something Conte is growing accustomed to, even if the same cannot yet be said for his homeland.
‘This is the first time in Serie A that they are playing during the Christmas period. But then they will have the winter break later in January. It’s not a bad idea after the Christmas period to give a bit of rest, also in England. The players deserve it.
‘To play football over Christmas is a bit strange for me. Last season was the first time for me and my family, but it was great.
‘Christmas is an important period because you can spend a lot of time with your family, and it’s fantastic for the people to spend a part of Christmas at the football with us, and for us to all stay together.’
By Rupert Cane
In the second part of our exclusive interview with the boss, to be published at New Year, Conte talks about the current status of his squad, his players’ ability to adapt, and he also has a message for Blues fans as 2018 begins…