Antonio Conte Highlights Chelsea Pride Amid Exit Speculation

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistOctober 2, 2017

COBHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Chelsea Head Coach Antonio Conte talks to the media at Chelsea Training Ground on September 29, 2017 in Cobham, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has piled praise on his players despite Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Manchester City, while speculation is afoot the Italian will return to Serie A at the end of this season.

The Sunday Times (h/t The Sun's Alex Terrell) reported Conte "seriously considered resigning" over the summer but only failed to do so because his exit would have attracted a major financial penalty.

Former Blue Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea were deservedly beaten, although Conte maintained a steely front and lauded his players, per the club's official website:

"I see my players every day and I am proud to be their coach because I see their commitment in every training session and every game and I am pleased for this. For sure, to defend the title is very difficult because the past has shown it is very difficult to win two titles in a row.

"Our motivation must always be high, in every competition. We must put all of ourselves into trying to do the best in every game."

Both Chelsea and City were involved in UEFA Champions League fixtures in midweek, although Conte did note fatigue as a factor after his side played in Madrid last Wednesday, while City featured at home on Tuesday, via Goal:

It's suggested a string of incidents have led Conte to feel "unhappy with the level of support" received from the club's hierarchy and he desires easier access to owner Roman Abramovich and senior executive Marina Granovskaia.

Terrell also provided quotes from Conte's recent interview with Italian station Radio 1, where he conceded: "I miss Italy, that's beyond doubt, so once I have had some important and life-changing experiences, I will be back."

Only five months have passed since the ex-Italy manager won the Premier League in his maiden campaign at the club, but October 1's Sunday Times Sport front page indicated how quickly moods can change:

This summer's transfer business was also highlighted as something that may have swung Conte's decision, missing out on the signature of Romelu Lukaku before Nemanja Matic was sold to Manchester United.

There could be a high-profile vacancy in Italy's top flight, too, after Goal's Mark Doyle discussed Vincenzo Montella's recent struggles at AC Milan, although there's much success to be had at Chelsea if Conte decides to stay.