Is Antonio Conte talking himself into the sack?

by Andy Dillon / 26 January 2018, 11:35

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH is suddenly not looking so daft in his dealings with the combustible Antonio Conte.

When Chelsea’s quietly brooding Italian coach signed a new contract only last summer understandable questions were asked about the terms of the deal.

A near 100 per cent pay rise yet no extra time. The initial three years but now at £9 million per annum instead of around five.

Conte looked as if he had pulled the Russian’s trousers down, bagging the deal of the century, he was laughing behind his back.

Now as we turn a decisive corner of Conte’s second season in charge there is a definite feel as if the wind has changed direction.

There is a sense that this will be his last season - that he will not be around to see out the last of the three years he signed up for.

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From arch diplomat to a man who is fighting the world; Conte has performed a 180 degree turn that even his star midfielder Eden Hazard would be proud of.

Modern English football sorts them out - it always does. Mild mannered, considered, intellectual foreigners arrive with their swarthy Continental ways and perceived sophistication.

Within a year or so they are transformed into frothing, fizzing, barking mouthpieces with a grudge against everyone and everything.

At present, Conte hates the crowded fixture list of the league which helps subsidise his mammoth ages. He can’t stand Jose Mourinho up at Manchester United and now he is turning on his own bosses in his frustration at the transfer market.

Only three days ago Conte proclaimed Chelsea had changed. It was no longer a West London bear pit, a ruthless toy arena of a super-rich Russian oligarch who hired and fired at will.

Words like trust and patience were being bandied around as if they were the new motto on the club’s badge. Those of us who have been around Stamford Bridge a while have seen and heard it all before of course - usually just prior to another ritual sacrifice of a manager.

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That was before Conte lost an important match to Arsenal. In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s 2-1 Carabao Cup semi final defeat Conte turned on those above him at Chelsea, just as his predecessor Mourinho did in the months before he too got the boot.

Back then it was a home defeat by Crystal Palace in August 2015 when Mourinho unloaded his feelings on the press and declared he had handed in his wish list of players to the board and then sat back and watched none of them be fulfilled.

By December he was gone. Sacked while eating Christmas dinner at the training ground. A right old stuffing.

There is the clear sense of deja vu at the club now with Conte’s continued pokes at the work of Chelsea’s transfer overlord Marina Granovskaia is starting to annoy the top brass.

So much so that Abramovich might fancy digging out that contract he handed Conte last July just to check the small print.

Standard policy when a coach gets the bullet (and that is a fairly routine occurrence) is to continue paying them until they find another job.

Abramovich and his cohorts at the top know that despite being extremely wealthy men, the trail of discarded managers in his employ all want to get back to work as soon as possible at the very best clubs.

Real Madrid have already been taking a serious look at Conte - despite his whinges, he has a nasty habit of winning stuff even if he likes to claim it is in spite of his circumstances and not because of them.

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Inter Milan will have to overcome a fierce rivalry with Conte’s background as Mr Juventus to give him a job. The Italian FA want him back as national team boss but could not afford the wages of any of Europe’s Super clubs.

Conte will be back in work within months if not weeks of leaving Chelsea.

He has already said in public that he won’t walk out this summer which is daring Abramovich to fire him.

It won’t actually cost the Russian that much to do it, which will be music to his ears in the age of relative austerity at Stamford Bridge.

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