Peoples Digest Online- One positive from the end of the transfer window for Antonio Conte is that he now gets to focus on what he most likes most about the job, where he most likes to do the talking: the training ground.
That’s just as well because he certainly didn’t want to do much talking in the Chelsea media room at Cobham on Friday, at least when it came to the market. He stonewalled questions on the club’s general business, how so many players rejected them, Diego Costa and the curiosity over Ross Barkley’s aborted move – other than to say some of the reports about the Everton player and Chelsea were “ridiculous”.
“What I read about this issue was ridiculous,” the Italian said. “Ridiculous… with this adjective, I tell you my thoughts of this news
That adjective is understood to refer to reports that Conte had turned his phone off when Barkley attempted to speak to him, a story that Chelsea completely reject. They may well revisit their interest in the Everton player in January, but the Italian was generally unwilling to revisit much else from this window.
That alone arguably says more than anything about how trying and unsatisfactory the window was for the champions, as there is so much left unanswered. How does Conte really feel about the business they ended up doing? Why did so many players reject Chelsea and what does it say about the club? Why didn’t Diego Costa leave, and what happens next? Beyond all that but taking it all in, is the squad actually stronger now than it was at the start of the window?
All that could be done was to read between the lines, but there were two edgier lines in that regard from Conte. When the last and most pointed issue was put to him, over whether the squad is better, he wasn’t exactly effusive.
“It’s very difficult to reply to this question. Don’t forget last season we won the league. This season has just started. We have to play a lot of games. But I hope, this season, to do our best. Then we’ll see what happens during the season.”
There was then the broader question over the Premier League voting to close the transfer window early. Conte said he agreed with it – but there was a conspicuous caveat when asked about the difficulty it could bring if foreign clubs want your players.
“I think that, if you have a programme and a plan, and this plan is very clear, it’s not important to wait until the end of the window to sell your players. If you decide in the right time that these players are to stay in your squad, remain in your squad, I don’t see any problems about this.”
That doesn’t completely describe Chelsea’s window even with the later deadline, especially since one problem remains – literally: Costa.
Conte remarked that there was “no news about him”, itself a reflection on how the entire situation remains at an impasse. It is somewhat surprising Costa didn’t go in the summer, but that is said by those close to the situation to be down to a difference in how he saw his exit and how Chelsea did. The striker only wanted to go to Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s valuation of the player was also some £20m different to Chelsea’s – and, possibly, Diego Simeone’s. The Argentine ultimately wants Costa much more than his club, although the issue did come up in recent negotiations to extend his contract to 2020, and will likely mean Atletico go in with much more force in January.
There were questions over whether Conte could have been more forceful or persuasive with some of the players that turned Chelsea down like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, although he similarly rejected that and all debate over how meaningful this was for the champions. It did lead to one of his more light-hearted lines as he talked about whether it is important that a manager speaks with potential signings – and whether it was important to him when he was a player.
“Sometimes it’s important. Other times it’s not.
“I don’t know if I was lucky or unlucky, but I only lived one transfer. From Lecce to Juventus [in 1991]. That was the past. But I remember Gianni Boniperti, the chairman, called me. [Manager Giovanni] Trapattoni didn’t call me. The chairman spoke with me and also with my mother. I was only 21 years old. To change totally your life, to go into another city, alone because my family stayed in Lecce – I think it was a great idea for the chairman to call my mother.
“The chairman wanted to make my mother have the right feeling for this transfer. I repeat, for a mother to ‘lose’ one son it’s not easy.”
It was much the same when he ended up Juve manager – if without the maternal influence.
“When you stay at Juventus and every single player wants to come, they arrive whether they speak or not to the head coach. If a player has great desire to play for a great club, he signs… but when I was at Juventus, players signed for Juventus. Not for the manager.”
Is it a concern for the future of his current club, though, that certain players didn’t come?
“Honestly, I like to think about the present… Now I’m happy. Very happy to work with my players. We tried, I repeat, to improve our squad and will try to do our best for the whole season. After this season, everyone will have more answers.”
In that present, Conte is now going to have to find answers with the squad he is actually left with, but that is much more important than it sounds. His ability to do it is arguably more important than any signing he could have feasibly made. It’s easy to forget now, but last year’s summer window went worse for the Italian, in that he didn’t get a single first-choice target he wanted. He still adjusted and excelled, though, and there is probably no one better at doing that – at tailoring the “suit” for his squad, as he puts it – than any other manager in the Premier League.
“I think that I have always spoken about this issue and told you that I’m a coach. I like to work with my players to improve my team… My work finishes on the pitch.”
That is also where he has the true last word. The King Power Stadium pitch for the match against Leicester City today will probably say more than anything else.