‘I consider defeat to be a state of virtual death’ ANTONIO CONTE
It’s common knowledge that Chelsea FC took home the English Premier League title last season (2016/2017), all thanks to Antonio Conte who came at the time when Chelsea FC needed to be salvaged from the hands of below par performances and with his resilience and good footballing tactics, he did a repeat of what was last done in the club by the Chelsea FC former manager and current Manchester United Head Coach Jose Mourinho in 2015. The former Italian national team Head Coach has proven to be a successful manager in recent years clinching a total number of 7 titles in all competitions as a manager from 2007 – 2017.
Antonio Conte made his debut as a manager with F.C. Bari 1908 following a successful career as a tenacious box-to-box midfielder who featured in the line ups of Lecce, Juventus and the Italian national team in a footballing career that spanned from 1986 – 2004. Though his coaching career started as an Assistant Manager at Arezzo, he rose as the manager of the club in 2006. After a brief unconvincing spell in Arezzo, he was appointed the manager of the then Italian Serie B side, F.C. Bari 1908 in 2007. He was announced the manager of Atalanta in 2009 once his contract was terminated by “mutual consent” after helping Bari secure promotion to the top flight Serie A in the 2009-2010
Conte had his worst bout so far as a Head Coach in Atalanta with just 3 wins and a whopping 7 loses in 14 games for the club. He reportedly almost got lynched by the Nerazzurri fans after a 2:0 home loss against club rivals Napoli on the 6th January, 2010. Fierce protests were held by the fans calling for the termination of his contract as the club’s manager due to the very poor performances that culminated their outings. On the 7th January, 2010, a day after the acrimonious Napoli loss, Antonio Conte tended his resignation letter leaving the battered club on the 19th position in the league. Sienna hired Conte as the Head Coach on the 9th of May, 2010 with the aim of helping the side obtain promotion to the Serie A. He secured promotion for the club side the same season and on the 22nd of May, 2010 Conte was announced as the substantive Head Coach of Juventus.
The staunch Conte’s time in Juventus was full of high points, taking ‘The Old Lady’ to incredible new heights in all competitions. Winning the Serie A title back to back for three consecutive years (2011–12, 2012–13, 2013–14) and two consecutive Supercoppa Italiana wins (2012, 2013) made him one of the most recognized and celebrated Juventus Managers ever. He flopped most of the records of his predecessors and set new standards. After beating Atalanta 3 –1 on their last match fixture in the 2011-2012 season, Juventus finished the league unbeaten, the first team to do so since Serie A expanded to 20 teams and 38 rounds. His 3–5–2 formation became his winning formulae as most clubs in the Serie A became unable to track down his men. He celebrated tremendous victories and was crowned the Serie A Coach of the Year for three consecutive football seasons (2011–12, 2012–13, 2013–14). Conte resigned as manager of Juventus on the 15th of July 2014. It is rumoured that this was as a result of the team’s mediocre shows in the European Champions league.
Conte agreed to a 2-year contract as the Head Coach of Italian National Team on the 14th of August 2014 after his resignation from Juventus. This saw him lose just 4 of his 25 games in his 2 year leadership as Italian Head Coach; winning 14 and drawing 7. His last moments in the national team was his face off against Italian rivals Germany, in the quarter-finals of EURO 2016, which ended 1–1 after extra time and 6–5 in favour of Germany after the resulting penalty shoot-out. Speaking after the match, Conte said, “The decision to leave the national team after two years was taken early,” and that the reason for leaving was because he “wanted to return to the cut and thrust of club football”.
Going back to club football, the 48 year old Antonio Conte signed a 3-year contract with English Premier League side Chelsea FC On the of 4 April, 2016 leading the side through a highly impressive 2016-2017 season. With his intimidating 3-4-3 formation; having the Nigerian born Victor Moses and trickery Marcos Alonso as wing-backs also capable of playing as wingers, he cut deep into the defense of most Premier leagues sides. The most remarkable being his 4:0 away win against the Jose Mourinho led Manchester United. Recall that Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea club owner, Roman Abramovic earlier in 2014. The club clinched the title with two games ahead following a 1–0 away win against West Bromwich Albion 1–0. Indeed an outstanding performance on his first season with The Blues! He was crowned the Premier League Manager of the Season: 2016–17 and came 2nd Place as The Best FIFA Men’s Coach: 2017. His contract with The Blues was later extended, seeing that the new Chelsea man remains in the club till 2019.
Conte, who had a daughter from his wife he dated for 15 years, is known for his tactical prowess as well as his ability to psych players up with his motivational team talks. Italian and Juventus legend Pirlo remarked positively of Conte’s man-management and motivational skills. In his autobiography he recalled how Conte’s introductory speech to the Juventus squad left a significant impression on him: “He needed only one speech, with many simple words, to conquer both me and Juventus. He had fire running through his veins and he moved like a viper. ‘This squad, dear boys, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes. It’s crazy. It’s shocking. I am not here for this, so it’s time to stop being so crap.’… When Conte speaks, his words assault you. They crash through the doors of your mind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said: ‘Hell, Conte said something really spot-on again today.'”
Just like the controversial Jose Mourinho, Conte is also known for his towering temper. Prior to the team talk ahead of the final game of the 2013–14 season, the legendary Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon arrived with the club’s chief executive who Buffon claimed wanted to speak to the players over how much they were due in league win bonuses having won the title. Pirlo said “The suggestion sent Conte into a fury. He chased every player out of the room as he tore into Buffon. ‘I don’t want to hear another word. From you, of all people Buffon, I would never have expected such a thing. Bonuses … You’re a disappointment, a defeat from the moment you opened your mouth.’ Juventus later won the game 3–0 and set a new record for the most points and wins in a single Serie A season.
It’s clear that Antonio Conte is a force to reckon with in modern day football as his achievements speak ahead of him. Football lovers would love to see the more of him as he is faced with a more challenging EPL season as defending champions. GOALISMA wishes him the best of luck!
By Ekwueme-Duru Uchechukwu