Chelsea Focus: Would Antonio Conte Represent a Long-Term Fix for the Blues?
When Chelsea begin their quest for a new full-time manager in the summer, the board will have quite an arduous task at hand.
Given the club's track record with managers over the past decade, any top coach who values his dignity would think twice before applying to the post.
Let's face it: Only a fool would risk walking into a lion's den.
I don't believe Rafael Benitez has a shot at retaining the job. Rafa will never be accepted by Chelsea fans, come what may. The title "interim manager" in itself suggests this is nothing more than a temporary gig.
Given his association with the club is likely nearing an end, Benitez has already turned his attention to other job prospects. The top brass at Chelsea, meanwhile, must start looking at potential candidates.
In Pep Guardiola, the big fish got away. Soon after, Jurgen Klopp too ruled himself out of the reckoning. Meanwhile, speculation is rife that Jose Mourinho, still adored by Chelsea fans, will be denied a return to Stamford Bridge. He is reportedly set to be snubbed by the club's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
David Moyes, Diego Simeone and Michael Laudrup have all been linked with Chelsea. The latest to join the burgeoning list of probable managers are current Malaga head coach Manuel Pellegrini and Juventus manager Antonio Conte.
According to Pellegrini's agent, Jesus Martinez, the Blues recently made an inquiry about the Chilean tactician's availability, but he also pointed out that there was no concrete offer on the table just yet:
Manuel has a contract with Málaga. I think that in April and May we will be clear about what will happen with his future.
Our first intention is to respect our commitment, but it also depends on what the conditions are. We had a formal offer from Roma, but we rejected it. It was less than 15 days ago, but we discarded it outright because we are in the middle of the season.
Chelsea and other clubs have asked, but only through intermediaries, nothing official. Manuel would love to coach in the English Premier League, as he would in Germany, Italy and other important leagues. There's plenty of time to analyse what we will do next season.
Will Antonio be the man to replace Rafael Benitez at Chelsea?
Pellegrini is indeed keen to manage in the Premier League, and Chelsea will almost certainly be without a manager by the time summer is upon us. He has proven himself with limited resources at Malaga and previously at Villareal. In light of this, the former Real Madrid gaffer might just be the next man to step into the manager's shoes at Stamford Bridge.
Alternatively, that man could easily be Antonio Conte. The Italian, presently at the helm at Juventus, has showcased his managerial credentials over the past year and a half. He too has been thrown into the mix in recent weeks.
Conte, a Juve icon from his playing days with the Old Lady of Turin, is tactically adept and comes across as a strong figure.
His Juventus side generally line up in a 3-5-2 system, a fascinating formation. Whatever said, it has worked for the Italian side, as they went unbeaten through the whole of their 2011-12 Serie A campaign, winning the league comfortably.
This season again, Juve sit pretty at the top of the Serie A table and have one foot in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, having recorded a resounding 3-0 win away at Celtic. They have beaten Chelsea in convincing fashion in the group stages already, and that will certainly play on Abramovich's mind.
In response to reports linking him to the Chelsea and Real Madrid reins, the Juve boss said, "I'm flattered. Both the club and I enjoy these assessments. It means that we are doing well."
The key question here is: Would Conte genuinely be interested in taking over the Chelsea managerial reins? What is it we can infer from his response?
To be candid, I don't sense eagerness on Conte's part. That, of course, may change in a few months. One has to keep in mind that the man is in the middle of a promising campaign here.
There are other concerns as well. Would he be a tactical fit for a club like Chelsea? What are the chances that he would alter their present 4-2-3-1 arrangement?
The Italian is, after all, open to the idea of experimenting with formations.
The 3-5-2 Conte presently deploys with Juve switches over to a 5-3-2 when the team is defending. Of course, this formation relies heavily on the dual qualities of wing backs. Chelsea's top dogs in this department are Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta. Can they really flourish in a system like that?
And what of the natural width that the likes of Eden Hazard and Victor Moses offer? Some intriguing questions will need to be answered should Conte land the big job in West London.
Let us permit ourselves a glimpse of his character as well. Conte has some striking similarities to Jose Mourinho, and it is not just about tactical shrewdness. He often courts controversy. His post-match comments can at times be exasperating, and he does seek the occasional excuse when things don't go his side's way.
Credit where credit is due too: Conte is a great motivator. Goal.com's Kris Voakes and Mourinho, who himself dubbed Conte the Italian Special One, would concur.
Conte will be aware that in Roman Abramovich's book, you're only as good as your last result. And there appears to be no good reason for him to leave the club he loves.
Nonetheless, it is a daring young man we're talking about here. He might just take the Chelsea job and prove everyone wrong.
An authoritative, emotive and opinion-polarizing figure already, Conte may or not be the preacher of a beautiful passing game, but he sure knows how to grind out results.
Pragmatism comes first for him. Or so it seems.
His profile suits the Blues, and should he seek a new challenge anytime soon, Chelsea must act promptly. Who knows, they might just land themselves the Special One, Volume II.
Or better, a long-term solution.
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