Antonio Conte does not know where he will be working next season – but is adamant that this season’s woes with Chelsea will make him stronger as a man and a manager.
The Italian predicted a difficult second season last summer, having won the Premier League title at his first attempt when Chelsea had no European football to distract them.
True to his fears, the Blues have slumped this season, failing to get beyond the last 16 of the Champions League and struggling to make the top four after last week’s defeat by Tottenham left them in fifth place, eight points behind their London rivals.
Antonio Conte is adamant that this season’s woes with Chelsea will make him stronger
Yet Chelsea were third, seven points clear of Spurs, when they played Sunday’s opponents West Ham back in December. Defeat at the London Stadium started a slide down the table that leaves the prospect of no Champions League football and Conte out of a job. Although he has one more year on his contract, few expect to see him in charge of Chelsea come August.
Yet the Italian believes he will learn more from disaster than triumph, and will come back stronger.
‘You become stronger after a defeat,’ he said on Friday. ‘When you win, you don’t see always the problems. When you don’t win, you have a lot of strength to try to change the situation, to try to have a good answer. A defeat makes you stronger than a win.’
The question is whether Chelsea as a club will learn the same lessons, having established a pattern of success followed by failure and sacking the manager. Jose Mourinho (twice) and Carlo Ancelotti were sacked barely a year after winning the Premier League title, and Roberto Di Matteo was sacked only six few months after winning the Champions League in 2012.
‘I can only talk about myself, not the other,’ he said when asked if Chelsea had learned any lessons from the past. And he wants to finish the season as strongly as possible before making plans for next year – wherever he may be.
‘Now is not the right moment to speak about this topic (planning for next season). The most important thing is to try to finish this season in the best possible way. We must be focussed on the present and go game by game. Then it will arrive the right moment to speak about the future and to make a plan.’
The Italian predicted a difficult second year in London and his side are struggling for top four
Conte wants to finish the season as strongly as possible before making plans for next year
He knows West Ham will not a walkover, despite their position in the relegation zone. ‘We must pay great attention because they’re fighting hard to avoid relegation. It was a bad defeat (in December), it was a poor performance but this season we had many games and then dropped points. I remember when we played against West Ham, who were maybe bottom of the table. It was the same against Crystal Palace. I think we are talking about a really good team. I don’t why they’re in this position in the table.’
Chelsea finished 15 points ahead of Manchester City last season, but Pep Guardiola’s side could end up with double that margin over the Blues as Conte admits: ‘There is a great gap with City. The table is showing this. But it is not the right time to speak about the gap between us and City. Now the most important thing is to be focussed on the present and to try to finish this season in the best possible way.’
Whatever happens, Conte will not rest easy after this season’s problems. ‘When I was a player, after a defeat, I was very angry and the players will have the same feeling as myself. After a defeat, it’s really difficult to sleep. For me, it was very difficult when I was a player. It’s very difficult now as a manager. I think it’s right to feel this bad sensation because if you win or lose. It’s always the same, you feel something wrong with yourself – that you are not a winner. You are a loser.’