Work is the only verb I know, says new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte

Kante, Morata and Nainggolan among Italian’s targets to bolster squad

 

Antonio Conte swerved away from any bold promises. The snazzy monikers were for others to pin on him, not for him to offer up, and he did not mention a rival manager by name, other than his friend Claudio Ranieri.

When the comparisons to José Mourinho were put to him he merely acknowledged that “some coaches have a winning mentality but not everyone has it in them”. The implication was both are blessed, though his follow-up, that “those who do are, indeed, special”, was about as mischievous as it got.

The Italian offered up only realism as he confronted the considerable task he has taken on at Chelsea. He was emotional, even excited, to have this chance yet conceded those who have discounted his team from mounting a title challenge in the campaign to come would be justified on the evidence of last season’s prolonged traumas.

The buzzword was “work”, revisited regularly as “the only verb I know”. “I’m a worker,” he said. “I like to work, and I know only this road for the club to compete, to return to the Champions League, to get back to winning the title.” It said everything that he had crammed his first public engagement between gruelling double training sessions at Cobham.

Impressive bow

His compatriots in the audience warned this performance may not end up being considered the norm, and that the firebrand witnessed on the touchline at Euro 2016 would surface soon enough. He will have appeased some fans by admitting he had played his part in John Terry being offered a new one-year deal in May, and doffed his cap to the politics by pointing out that, “when he plays, when he doesn’t play, he is always the captain”.

He also conceded a squad bolstered only by the arrival of Michy Batschuayi, for an initial £33.2m, needed strengthening, though the message was one of reassurance rather than concern. “We know this club – the team – needs to reinforce,” he said. “I am sure that, in the coming days, we can reinforce the team to go closer to the others who seem to be higher in the table compared to Chelsea.

“Leicester City must give us a great example. You can have the best talent, the best champion [players] , but you must also have a good spirit in your team, a team with good organisation and good players. If you have all of those things, you can win. You can reach your target. I am sure about this. And in the coming days we can buy one, two, three – I don’t know – more players.”

Fiery prospect

The nod to the champions was notable. A year ago, Chelsea aspiring to be more like Leicester would have been unthinkable. Yet, these days, an entire division is attempting to emulate Ranieri’s achievements, even if Conte’s priority is to implement a philosophy rather than fret about results. “I’m not afraid of the club sacking me. The most important thing is to work, to give an identity to my team, to bring my idea of football, to bring my passion, my work.”

Conte spoke with Carlo Ancelotti and received a glowing assessment of the Chelsea ownership, and has been encouraged at Cobham, where a shadow squad devoid of those involved at Euro 2016 and the Copa América reconvened on Monday, by the eagerness he has detected to mount a recovery from last season.

“Finishing 10th was not a bad season; it was a very, very bad season,” Conte said. “But you can restart and learn from what happened. It is very strange that, one year on, a team who had won the title are out of the Champions League and Europa League. History says that, in the Abramovich era, Chelsea are always in the Champions League. It is important to get back very soon.” Guardian Service

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