Why Antonio Conte Can Be Chelsea's New 'Special One' If He Joins Them This Summer

First published at the end of February, Italian expert Adam Digby takes us through what to expect from Antonio Conte at Chelsea 

Since Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea earlier this season, a long list of coaches have been linked as potential successors to the Portuguese, with one Italian website suggesting Max Allegri  had already agreed a deal to move to Stamford Bridge in the summer. However, the Juve boss strongly denied that was the case, and this week saw his agent state categorically that he would remain in Turin.

“Allegri will stay where he is, he's happy at Juventus," Giovanni Branchini told Tuttosport, prompting a further report that the Livorno native was set to extend his contract with the Bianconeri. That was confirmed by the club and essentially appears to rule him out of a switch to the Premier League, and his predecessor has since emerged as the favourite for the role.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Antonio Conte has already held talks with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia and will meet him and Roman Abramovich in London this week. He seems prepared to leave his position as Coach of the Italian national team following Euro 2016, repeatedly expressing his dissatisfaction at a lack of contact with his players.

Having been a member of Juve’s 1996 Champions League winning side, a look at his managerial career to date means that should come as no surprise. Conte retired in 2004 and quickly took up a role on the sidelines, working as an assistant to Gigi Di Canio at Siena before taking his first head coaching job with Arezzo ahead of the 2006/07 campaign.

Poor results saw him sacked and reappointed during the season, but he was unable to keep the Tuscan side in Serie B and left the club when they were relegated. Late in 2007 he joined Bari, and eighteen months later claimed the second division title in a surprising turnaround for a team who had struggled in a relegation battle before appointing him.

However, rather than remain with the Galletti he moved on to Atalanta to gain experience in the top flight and he once again endured a difficult spell, winning just three of his fourteen games in charge. Conte subsequently went back to Siena, winning promotion to Serie A once again and added to his reputation as a detail-orientated Coach who favoured a four-man defence and wide attacking players in what essentially evolved into a 4-2-4 formation.

It was then that Juventus came calling. Consecutive seventh-place finishes meant the Bianconeri needed to take drastic action as they prepared to open their new stadium, believing their former Captain was the man to rebuild them. While his return was expected to have an immediate impact, watching him transform the side into an unstoppable machine in a single summer and guiding them to the Scudetto without losing a single game was still a huge surprise.

That season also saw him evolve tactically, embracing the quality of the squad at his disposal and opting for a 3-5-2 framework that allowed him to field more of the club’s better players. Indeed, that three-man defence only worked because Conte could deploy Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. 

Another two Serie A titles—including a league record 102 points in 2013/14—followed before an acrimonious split eighteen months ago. Insisting he could take the Old Lady no further, Conte replaced Cesare Prandelli as the Italy boss just a few weeks later and once again made an instant impact upon an underperforming team.

The Azzurri collapsed at the 2014 World Cup, but lost just twice as they qualified for this summer’s tournament with ease, testament once again to the ability of the man on the bench. But he has received some criticism, particularly as he continued to select players who buy into his group-first approach rather than some of the peninsula’s high profile but more individualistic attacking talents. 

Overlooking the likes of Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne—who have both had disciplinary issues this season—in favour of more workmanlike forwards such as Emanuele Giaccherini, but it is here where Conte’s similarities with the self-proclaimed “Special One” come to the fore.

While the Italian is unlikely to ever enjoy the press adulation afforded to Mourinho, both men are entirely driven by results and eschew the belief their teams need to entertain. They also transmit a vital mentality into their players, ensuring they are prepared as well as possible for each match and constantly strive for perfection.

Talking of the need to “sacrifice” his own play for the sake of the collective, Southampton’s Graziano Pellè told Sky Italia in October that “Conte gives the team a winning mentality and is constantly looking to get the best out of the players.”

That appears to be just what Chelsea need as they attempt to break out of their current malaise, and Antonio Conte’s track record would indicate that he could well be the right man to help them do just that.