Where it went wrong for Antonio Conte at Chelsea
Despite winning the FA Cup final against Manchester United in his last match in charge of Chelsea, Antonio Conte’s sacking on Friday was the inevitable result of a stormy season at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea finished fifth in the league — 30 points behind champions Manchester City — just 12 months after winning the title and their failure to qualify for the Champions League sealed Conte’s fate.
Here we look at three reasons the Italian only lasted two seasons with the Blues: The champagne corks had barely finished popping at the end of Chelsea’s title celebrations in May before Conte bizarrely lost his cool with Costa.
Misjudging his power base, Conte felt winning the league should allow him much more say in who came and went from his squad — and first in his sights was notorious malcontent Diego Costa.
Infuriated by Costa’s mood swings and an attempt to engineer a move, Conte decided to sell the Spain striker even though his goals had been instrumental in the title success.
But he hadn’t reckoned on Costa going public with a text message from Conte telling him he was no longer in his plans, a move that prompted the Chelsea boss to exile his forward from the squad.
The situation quickly disintegrated as Costa refused to train with the reserves, leaving Chelsea struggling to find a buyer.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was said to be furious and, although Costa eventually got his wish to join Atletico Madrid, the Italian was on a collision course with the club’s hierarchy.
The breakdown in relations manifested itself in Conte dragging out negotiations over a new contract and when he eventually signed the improved terms, tellingly it didn’t include an extension.
Already grumbling about his lack of influence over transfers and complaining that Chelsea weren’t spending as much as their rivals, Conte was livid when Abramovich sanctioned Nemanja Matic’s switch to Manchester United before the start of the season.
It didn’t help that technical director Michael Emenalo left the club, leaving Marina Granovskaia, a close Abramovich aide, in charge of transfer deals, much to Conte’s chagrin.
Conte’s main complaint was Chelsea had failed to land his top targets, with Romelu Lukaku moving to United instead, and Juventus defender Alex Sandro also proving untouchable.
Conte went public with his frustration, muttering darkly during pre-season about the problems lying in wait for Chelsea if they didn’t strengthen the squad to cope with the demands of returning to the Champions League after a season’s absence.
For all Conte’s complaints, Chelsea still spent over £120 million on Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater.
It didn’t help Conte’s mood that the players he was given largely under-performed, with Rudiger the lone useful recruit.
Morata’s failure to adequately replace the more physical Costa as the fulcrum of Chelsea’s attack was a huge blow that left them fatally lacking a cutting edge.
Unaccustomed to being questioned so openly, Abramovich is believed to have been vexed by Conte’s belligerent attitude — putting the pair at loggerheads as Chelsea’s problems mounted.
Engaging in a petty feud with United manager Jose Mourinho only added to the perception that Conte was unravelling as Chelsea failed to keep pace with City in the title race.
Angered by some typically acerbic jibes from Mourinho, Conte gave a stinging response, branding his rival a “little man” and questioning whether he was suffering from senile dementia.
But the 48-year-old’s hardline stance wasn’t limited to mischievous opponents. The season was only a few weeks old when Conte’s players were reported to be chafing at his demanding training sessions and intense personality.
Numerous hamstring injuries suffered by Chelsea’s stars led some to question whether Conte’s training methods were culpable.
Conte was said to have reacted to the growing angst around him by retreating to his inner sanctum, speaking only to his most trusted assistants and becoming distant from his players.
Well aware that he was unlikely to return, Conte went out with a bang after the Cup final, taking the chance to remind Abramovich what he would be missing when the axe fell.
“After two years, the club knows me very well. I can’t change,” he said.
“I think in a difficult season like this, I showed I’m a serial winner.”