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25th Nov 2016

Why Antonio Conte is a “special kind of coach” – and how he turned Chelsea into table toppers

“He is a manager the players love to play for"

Tony Barrett

One by one, they filed past, each coming up with the same answer to different questions, each identifying a single individual for what they, as a team, had just achieved.

Dressed in jeans and shirts as white as their trainers, the victorious Italy players were being asked in various ways how they had out-manoeuvred the much fancied Belgium team so comprehensively at Euro 2016 and to a man they all cited the influence of their manager, Antonio Conte.

“He prepares matches better than anyone else and you can see that on the pitch,” Daniele De Rossi said. “Everyone knows exactly what they have to do and where our team mates are and that makes it easier for us. I’ve played under other good managers but he is one of the best for sure. He’s a special kind of coach.”

“He gives every player who works for him total confidence,” Matteo Darmian offered. “Every player in the squad wants to give 100 per cent for him every time, in training or on the pitch; he’s that sort of manager. He’s great in every aspect of the game. We are difficult to score against and with that, then we know we can always pinch something going forward.”

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 27: Antonio Conte head coach of Italy celebrates his team's 2-0 win with his team players and staffs after the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Italy and Spain at Stade de France on June 27, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)


“He is a manager the players love and who love to play for,” agreed Emanuele Giaccherini as the Parc Olympique Lyonnais played host to the kind of tributes that a manager only usually receives upon his retirement following years of success. That this was after a group game was revealing in itself. The Italy players had not just bought into Conte’s ideas, they had come to view them as their greatest strength. Praise was reserved for no-one else, it belonged to him alone.

Almost six months on, we are coming to have a greater understanding as to why this was the case.

The Chelsea side that Conte manages is not only greater than the sum of its parts, or at least greater than the dishevelled, dispirited parts that he inherited, it is also top of the Premier League following a run of six straight wins.

Those who point out that at this stage all this represents is a strong run of form and claim that Conte is merely English football’s latest managerial flavour of the month are not arguing without justification but, equally, in terms of collective endeavour and systemic progress what we are currently seeing at Chelsea is what we have seen before when he was in charge of Italy and Juventus.

A change to three at the back has brought greater defensive solidity, more intense work on the training ground is leading to more intense performances on the pitch, an endless search for tactical solutions that problems that may or may not have occurred yet is yielding an improved understanding of his methods, a determination to show all of his players that they are valued has prompted an upturn in individual and therefore collective performance.

<> at Coverciano on October 8, 2015 in Florence, Italy.


All of the hallmarks of a Conte team are in place and unlike one of his illustrious predecessors at Stamford Bridge he is not content to wait for three or more transfer windows to come and go before delivering an upturn in form.

Like Liverpool, the season’s other most impressive early pace setters, Chelsea are benefiting from a lack of European football, but like Jurgen Klopp, Conte is making the most of the additional time available to him on the training ground.

It is there that the defensive drills are gone over again and again until even David Luiz, a centre back of supreme technical ability but one who has sometimes played as if he thought he had a free role, now thinks as part of a unit.

While Eden Hazard, who is thriving in a 3-4-3 formation that affords him greater freedom, and Diego Costa dominate the plaudits that are coming Chelsea’s way, it is Luiz and Victor Moses who are emerging as the symbols of the work that Conte is doing.

Moses’s revival is the most intriguing of all of the positive developments that have occurred under Conte.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Victor Moses of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)


For all of the criticism that has come Jose Mourinho’s way for stopping getting the best out of the players he had at Chelsea, it would be revisionist in the extreme if the Manchester United manager was taken to task for not appreciating the talent of Moses.

Like Klopp at Liverpool, though, Conte has an eye for identifying qualities that are easily overlooked and creating roles that fall outside the norm, with his decision to deploy Moses as a wing back paying off in a way that few would have anticipated when it was first attempted.

“Victor Moses? I picked up on his potential from the first days of summer training,” Conte told Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this week. “He has important qualities: his technique, his strength, his ability to cover seventy metres on the wing. I find it incredible that someone like him should have been underestimated.”

It is Moses, arguably more than anyone else at Chelsea, who is justifying the praise that the Italy players showered upon Conte during the summer. He has been given total confidence by his manager, just as Darmian said happens to every player under his management.

during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Chelsea at Riverside Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.



He knows exactly what he has to do, and to an extent that certainly wasn’t the case previously, as De Rossi highlighted. And his form demonstrates that he is the latest in a long line of players to enjoy playing for him, in keeping with Giaccherini’s verdict.

In the Premier League, there is still an element of surprise about how quickly Conte has transformed Chelsea but for those who have worked with him in the recent past it is just a case of their expectations being realised.

Up to now, all this amounts to is a highly promising start for manager and team but should Chelsea win against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, the feeling will grow that Conte is set to preside over a title challenge in his first season in English football.

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