If I could download drone footage from any of this summer’s Premier League training camps it would have to be Chelsea’s. There will be no coasting on Antonio Conte’s watch. It should be explosive.
Last season’s inertia means question marks hang over every Blues player, and the passionate Italian requires swift answers to move forward. There’s no time to bed in slowly, or pussy foot around.
Who has the constitution to buy into his demanding methods?
Which of them are prepared to sacrifice individuality for collective gain?
Does anyone not fancy it?
Knowing the majority downed tools for Jose Mourinho in less than no time - and that some were also part of a merciless rejection of Andre Villas-Boas - the not-shy not-retiring 46-year-old will have to look his charges in the eye, and act decisively to separate the sheep from the goats.
He has to. For the way Conte asks his teams to perform, it’s impossible to carry passengers.
Some new gaffers can pull off this ‘it’s my way or the highway’ approach better than others. I’ve played for some that don’t confront or challenge their players with natural conviction or an infectious personality. When it feels forced, reactions can be negative.
I’ve also worked for coaches that try and put the frighteners on players before they’ve earned their respect. The chances of ever gaining it vanish when you go in too hard, too soon.
Not that any of this should be a problem for the latest Chelsea boss.
Fiery by nature, and with the gravitas to go about his work as he sees fit, I don’t envisage disenchanted Blues stars squealing to Roman Abramovich at the first sign of trouble this time around.
If they want to stay at Stamford Bridge they will listen and learn. Those who want a cruise-up and refuse to follow Conte’s lead will soon be out of the door.
Who goes? Who stays?
With the side in desperate need of younger legs, a few of the older, less hungry players are likely to scarper, and Cesc Fabregas might be at the head of the queue.
The Spaniard has great quality, but he will have to shift through several gears to provide a convincing case for renewal. For what he does on the ball, won’t be enough. Out of possession Conte needs his midfield men to win it back tenaciously, reliably track runners, and retain their discipline.
At 29, still unloved by large sections of the Blues support (and with no Champions League spotlight) I can’t imagine this leopard having the desire to change his spots.
I think he’ll be sold.
It’s a different story for the other three star turns, Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard.
The industrious Willian should kick on without fuss, and Costa (having been an Atletico Madrid man) also seems to thrive off the buzz of an intense group effort. If each decides they’d like to flex their muscles and fight for Conte, I feel they can become better players for the experience.
Hazard is the fascinating one.
I remember Mourinho gushing with praise for the Belgian’s attitude once he’d drawn a line in the sand and asked for more diligence in 2014. It was only post-Carneiro that the winger opted to relax. I think he has the capability to adapt, should he choose to do so.
With these three ‘big boys’ the sussing out process will work both ways.
If they’re impressed enough by their new head coach to stay on and be part of the revolution (and Conte sees fire in their bellies) Chelsea can bounce back very strongly this term.
Should they decide it’s not for them, the rebuild, and its progress, will be stunted.
Before a ball’s been kicked in anger, the Blues have a pivotal few weeks.
Under Conte it’s going to a volcanic environment no matter what, but how he and his key players respond to one another this summer, will decide just how volatile things are going to be.