LONDON, United Kingdom, July 17- Antonio Conte will not fail for lack of ambition at Chelsea. The 46-year-old Italian put in his first public appearance at the club last week after a week of holiday following Italy’s exit from Euro 2016.
And though there was an element of nervousness and vulnerability about him surrounding his English language skills, he is already significantly better than Fabio Capello ever was.
And given his propensity for rich metaphors and bold claims, he is a man who will not be misunderstood in England. The targets he has set for his players are clear: be the best. By which he means, with presumably the likes of Eden Hazard in mind, be as good as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I think that Chelsea have players who can become top, top, top players. I think that these players can still improve a lot with work. Because now we have players, fantastic players, who have great talent but in this moment the world doesn’t think they are the same level as Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba.”
“But I think that in our squad there are players who, with work, can improve a lot and reach this level. I’m sure about this. It’s important the players understand this. There is the ability to work, to prove and to show that, now I am a top player, but I want to become top, top, top player and I want to stay there.
This is important. The mentality is important. The heart is important, patience and the will to improve is very important and in this case it’s important for the manager to take the best players and try to improve them.”
It is perhaps a message most directly aimed at Hazard, the player of the year in 2014-15, and seemingly on the cusp of being one of the world’s great players, yet a crushing disappointment in 2015-16.
Even at Euro 2016, though he appeared to be coming to life against the Republic of Ireland and Hungary, his tournament ultimately ended in disappointment with the 3-1 defeat by Wales.
Conte, who started training last week at Chelsea, had already spoken with Hazard and appears confident about which player we will see this season.
“I think last season was bad for all the players. It’s incredible that Chelsea finished 10th in the table. Chelsea’s habit is to win the title or to stay until the end of the season fighting to win the title, to play in the Champions League and the last season, it was incredible, not only for Eden Hazard but for other players also.”
‘We know that when you have great players with great talent like Hazard in the team, the expectations are very high. Also, when the season before you have won the title and Hazard has been named the best player in the league. It’s important for us to recover Hazard in the best condition: technique, tactical, physical, overall and with the good mentality.
“But I spoke with him and I’m very happy. For me I’m pleased to train a fantastic player like him and also the other players. In Chelsea, with Hazard there are many players with great talent — Diego Costa, many players. I don’t want to say the names but many, many players. It’s important for me, I repeat, next season to create the right spirit in the team and with great organisation, a great physical condition we can have a good season.’
When he took over at Juventus in 2011, the club had just finished seventh for two consecutive seasons and Conte memorably told his players to ‘stop playing so c***’ at the very first team meeting. He declined to say whether he had delivered a similar message to Chelsea’s players, who slipped from champions to 10th last season, though you suspect he will not have tiptoed around the issue.
“My first speech with the Juventus players I remembered that in the past we had finished with two seventh places and that was not the right place for a team like Juventus. For this reason, it was very, very important to change, to work very hard and to go back very soon to fight for the title. I remember this and I am very happy because that speech went into their minds.”
He takes no public pleasure in the fact that Chelsea’s fixture list, with no European football, will be considerably lighter than all his title rivals.
“I had this situation in my first year in Juventus. When we started the 2011-12 season and Juventus stayed in the best position, the managers of the other teams said: “OK, but Juventus don’t play in the Europa League or the Champions League.” And I replied that I would prefer to play in the Champions League. Because teams like Chelsea belong in this tournament. In the Roman Abramovich era, Chelsea were always in the Champions League and I suffer a lot this year that we don’t play. We don’t play the Champions League.
“Me and the players and the club, we suffer because we must stay there. For this reason this season we must prepare very well to go back very soon to the rightful position — where Chelsea must stay.”