Chelsea Boss Antonio Conte Rightly Lauded in Italy as a Conquering Hero

Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2017

Chelsea's manager Antonio Conte celebrates after the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Monday, May 15, 2017. Chelsea won the match 4-3. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Italian coaches enjoying success abroad is nothing new. For years, the peninsula's finest have moved to foreign shores and collected silverware with incredible regularity, but their accomplishments have arguably never been as prominent as they have been over the past 12 months.

Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City being Premier League champions ranks as one of football's most shocking triumphs, but even that unforgettable achievement should not overshadow Antonio Conte's impact at Chelsea this term.

The 47-year-old arrived at Stamford Bridge immediately after Italy's elimination from last summer's European Championship, inheriting a squad that had endured a desperately poor 2015/16 campaign.

Failing to qualify for Europe, their slump may have actually aided Conte, allowing him to fully prepare for each game and—having already done so with Juventus—clinch the title in his debut season.

He and his players have rightly been lauded by the press in the UK, winning a number of individual honours and having their victory celebrated as the culmination of Conte's incredible work across all aspects of a coach's role.

Yet the triumph has also received a lot of attention in Conte's homeland. Italy's two biggest newspapers both devoted their front pages to Chelsea after they mathematically secured the title last Saturday morning.

"Conte Oh Yes" proclaimed La Gazzetta dello Sport, while rival publication the Corriere dello Sport went with "Special Conte" and noted that he "conquered the title at the first attempt with Chelsea."

Inside, they continued to praise the remarkable transformation the former Juve boss had been able to deliver. Gazzetta's Stefano Cantalupi was at the match against West Brom where Chelsea sealed the deal, writing that Conte was now "a hero in two worlds," noting that Blues fans revere him the same way Juventus supporters do.

"Winning at his first attempt, like Mourinho and Ancelotti," Cantalupi continued in this column (link in Italian). "He'll be pleased to have done so with two games to spare and after a year in which they had finished 10th. A sporting miracle."

The Corriere, meanwhile, thanks to journalist Ivan Zazzaroni, went further still. "Conte is different. In my opinion, he is the strongest coach in the world at the moment," he wrote in this column (link in Italian). "On the field, on the bench and in the locker room he is a phenomenon."

They were far from the only examples, with Fabrizio Bocca of La Repubblica expanding on those themes here (link in Italian), adding that the array of impressive coaches of this Premier League was another feather in Conte's cap:

"What he has done is greater still because it comes in the year that Manchester United and Manchester City have deployed powerful squads with superstars of the bench at the helm.

"Mourinho and Guardiola have struggled a lot despite assembling such rich and abundant teams. In the end they suffered and will finish not only behind Chelsea but also the Tottenham Hotspur of Mauricio Pochettino, and without shaking either Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool or an Arsenal led by the old and controversial Arsene Wenger."

"He came, he saw, he conquered," Andrea Sorrentino wrote here in the same newspaper (link in Italian), praising the "spirit, ferocity and tactical awareness that helped them overcome all the obstacles in their path."

"The season was in fact already decided on September 24, although no one knew it that day," Sorrentino continued. "After a good start in the Premier League, Chelsea had two consecutive defeats: Liverpool on September 16 and Arsenal on the 24th, but that day, at the half-time interval—already 3-0 down—Conte decided to change the formation and used the 3-4-2-1 for the first time. The match remained the same score, but the next game started the run and 13 consecutive victories followed."

Roman Abramovich has work to do.
Roman Abramovich has work to do.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The coverage was exclusively positive, although Conte has continually been linked with a move away from Chelsea. According to Sportmediaset (h/t Football Italia), the coach will meet with Roman Abramovich, seeking assurances from the owner about investment in the squad this summer.

That comes as Inter Milan continue their pursuit of Conte, per Neil McLeman of the Mirror, and while few in Italy expect him to walk away from Stamford Bridge, questions continue to be asked about what next season may hold.

Having won three consecutive Serie A titles at Juventus, the coach quit in the summer of 2014 citing a lack of funds in the transfer market that he believed would prevent the Bianconeri ever truly competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Max Allegri replaced Antonio Conte at Juventus.
Max Allegri replaced Antonio Conte at Juventus.AFP/Getty Images

As Chelsea return to facing Europe's elite next term, it will be interesting to see how he has evolved since leaving Turin and whether he will be better at rotating the side and adjusting his tactics than he was with the Bianconeri.

When that competition gets underway, he may see some familiar faces after they too enjoyed domestic success this season. Carlo Ancelotti—who was the Juve boss for two seasons between 1999 and 2001 when Conte was still a player—won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich but got little of the fanfare that Chelsea received.

That unquestionably stems from the fact that the Bavarian giants being German champions is less surprising than a distasteful gaffe from Donald Trump, while Massimo Carrera's victory with Spartak Moscow garnered arguably more praise.

Formerly an assistant with Conte at Juventus and the Italy national team, the retired defender won the Russian Premier League and told Radio Uno (h/t Football Italia) how different it was to coaching in Serie A:

"We have to adapt to the sporting mentality of those countries. There are less tactics here and you have to try to understand that in small doses: you can't not think of going to a country with another culture and imposing your own mentality.

"Have I heard from Conte? He complimented me and I did so back. I had no doubts about him, he's one of the best coaches in the world."

That is certainly true, and something fans in England have quickly seen this season. Due to his strong Juventus connections, he will never be the most popular figure, but Antonio Conte has answered every question this season about his ability to succeed away from the familiarity of the Bianconeri setup.