London (AFP) – As Antonio Conte gesticulated wildly on the touchline, the Chelsea manager felt his voice cracking and took a moment to register a sensation that spells bad news for his club’s underachieving stars.
Possessing a menacing glare that suggests he isn’t to be trifled with, the no-nonsense Conte has swaggered into Stamford Bridge determined to shake up a squad that went stale during their woeful Premier League title defence — even if it means he loses his voice in the process.
After two years in charge of the Italian national team, Conte is making the most of his return to the day to day cut and thrust of club management.
Drilling his new players for up to six hours on the training pitch in the blazing California heat during Chelsea’s pre-season tour, the 47-year-old’s ferocious work ethic quickly became clear.
Conte used a megaphone to shout instructions at his players during the early days of his managerial career and although he hasn’t gone to that extreme at Chelsea yet, the Italian has made his feelings known as vocally as possible and his throat has taken the brunt of those tirades.
“I like to follow the training session with my voice. To call at them and explain my reasons and my ideas of football. During the game it can be very difficult for my throat,” said former Juventus midfielder Conte, whose reputation for tenacity during his playing days has followed him into the dug-out.
Hired by Juventus in 2011 after earning his managerial stripes with promotions at Bari and Siena, Conte won three consecutive Serie A titles to go with the five he earned as a player in Turin.
– Fractured –
It is that ability to make an immediate impact that most appealed to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is betting the new boss can heal a fractured dressing room that spiralled out of control last season.
Amid widespread reports that several key players were so tired of previous boss Jose Mourinho’s hardline style that they effectively downed tools, Conte has arrived to find a squad in desperate need of fresh motivation.
“When you finish 10th it means there are problems. Don’t forget the past because it teaches us a lot but the important thing in this situation is to think of the present,” Conte said.
“There are problems and we are here to solve them. The situation is not easy. It is important to stay together in this moment.”
Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Oscar were among those reported to have fallen out of love with Mourinho, but Conte seems unlikely to soothe any bruised egos.
After assessing their performances in pre-season, Conte has already learnt enough to know who he can trust and he struck a stern note when asked about his transfer plans following a friendly win over AC Milan.
“I think this match told me a lot – about the players who can go on loan or we can sell. It was important because I have a more clear idea than before,” he said.
Conte did offer an olive branch to Oscar, the Brazil midfielder who often cuts a peripheral figure despite his technical gifts.
“Oscar is an important player and I think the season when Chelsea won the title, he played a fantastic season,” he said.
Although he admires Oscar, it’s significant that one of Conte’s first acts as Chelsea boss was to spend £30 million on N’Golo Kante, the tough-tackling France midfielder who resembled a one-man wrecking ball as he powered Leicester to the English title last season.
If Kante can bring those levels of energy and inspiration to Chelsea it would make Conte’s first taste of the Premier League a much smoother affair.
A strong start from Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, a £33 million ($44.4m) signing set to play alongside Costa in Conte’s preferred 4-4-2 formation, would also help ensure the Italian doesn’t go hoarse before August is over.
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