JUST one game into his club’s Premier League title defence and Antonio Conte is claiming Chelsea need to be more like Tottenham.
Tottenham, his club’s most bitter rivals.
Tottenham, beaten to the Premier League crown — and knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea last term.
Yes, that Tottenham. Tottenham Hotspur, who, ‘Won the league in black and white’, as Blues supporters often taunt them.
Just a week ago, Spurs left-back Danny Rose spoke with open envy about Chelsea’s ‘awesome’ strength in depth — they rested key players yet defeated his side 4-2 in their Cup semi.
Now Blues boss Conte claims owner Roman Abramovich’s club need to emulate the stability of Spurs.
In case you had forgotten, these were comfortably the best two teams in the country last season.
Yet as they prepare to collide at Tottenham’s new home patch of Wembley tomorrow, the champions are hurtling into self-inflicted crisis mode.
While the runners-up are trying to keep a lid on an atmosphere of dressing-room discontent revealed by Rose’s wide-ranging attack.
And Conte now seems very close to going completely rogue.
The ex-Juventus chief could barely conceal his frustrations yesterday in a series of thinly-coded digs.
In his native Italy, Conte had a reputation for going full-blown Vesuvius during press conferences. And he is close to erupting again now.
So the circle of life at Chelsea continues with great inevitability — title one season, meltdown the next.
However weird it may seem, you can understand Conte’s point when he claims his club now need some of Tottenham’s long-term thinking.
Conte explained: “I think Spurs are doing a great job, Mauricio Pochettino is doing a great job.
“He has built a great base and foundation for his club.
“We must do the same, we don’t have these bases. I have great respect for Tottenham. They are challenging for the title. I want to help my club build the same solid foundation. We don’t have this.
“We need time to work, to improve. I thought this season would be difficult, we lost a lot of strong players that built a strong base.
“John Terry, John Obi Mikel, Branislav Ivanovic — and now we need to find the right way to build. We must have patience to build for the future.
“Spurs have worked with Pochettino for three years, this is the fourth year.
“He has had the possibility to work for three years with the same players and the possibility every season to improve his foundations.
“For every coach it’s important to give continuity to the club, because when you arrive you don’t know what you’ll find. When you understand your basis you have to try to work step-by-step, year-by-year to improve this basis, to make it more solid and to build a good structure.
“Last season we started to build this foundation and we won, so it means we built something.
“But now it’s not enough, we have to improve, to extend this base, work together with new players. I think Tottenham is doing this very well.”
Yet if Conte wants stability why did he turn down the offer of a four-year contract, choosing a pay rise on the two-year agreement he already had?
Conte replied: “But I still have two years. This season and next to work with this club.
“Then if we stay very well and we have the same vision, we continue.”
As well as chuckling at claims from fugitive Blues striker Diego Costa that Chelsea are treating him like a ‘criminal’, Conte also openly laughed at suggestions this is a good time to be facing Spurs, given their struggles at Wembley.
It was not exactly motivational stuff. Then there is the fact that, while Conte wants Chelsea to follow Spurs’ long-term model, he has often been reluctant to promote academy players.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah were off-loaded to Crystal Palace and Watford respectively while Conte moans about a lack of numbers.
With Cesc Fabregas suspended for a kamikaze red card in the 3-2 defeat by Burnley last weekend, France midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his competitive debut tomorrow.
Yet Conte said he is not physically ready and claimed his lack of options means he might have to risk an injury to his £40million signing.
He also claimed the media often mention the initial £129million Chelsea have spent on Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger this summer, without noting that their net spend has been a modest £19m thanks to the sales of Nemanja Matic (£40m) and Nathan Ake (£20m) among others.
All in all, it is not exactly sweetness and light for a man who was parading the Premier League trophy in May.
But at Chelsea, silverware is scarcely an indication all is hunky-dory, with Abramovich tending to run his club on the basis of chaos theory.
As Conte said: “Sometimes you can win and you are preparing to disrupt yourself. Sometimes you don’t win but are preparing yourself to be better.”
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