London (AFP) – Antonio Conte has paid his respects to Chelsea great Ray Wilkins following his death earlier this week, urging his players to “make a great memory” against West Ham on Sunday.
The Blues boss spoke passionately about the club’s former captain, who died aged 61 on Wednesday following a cardiac arrest.
The Premier League announced that all matches this weekend will be preceded by a moment’s applause in memory of the ex-England international, whose other clubs included Manchester United, AC Milan and QPR.
Chelsea will make their own tribute to a man who worked as an assistant manager and coach with the Blues, with memories in the matchday programme, a book of condolence and a picture montage all planned ahead of Sunday’s match.
“It was tragic news for us,” Conte told reporters on Friday. “We are talking about a really good person. I was lucky to know him and speak with him many times. He was a legend for this club, an ambassador for football.
“We are very sad because it is very difficult to accept this news. We want to pass on to the family our deepest condolences and I think this is a big loss.”
While the game against the Hammers is expected to be an emotional afternoon, Conte wants the fixture itself to be treated differently from the pre-match tributes.
“I think on Sunday we must be ready to make a great memory to Ray,” he said.
“I think that this will be very important, then there is the game. But I see two different situations and it is not right to mix the situations. We must have great respect for the tragedy and think to play football to give the best during the game.”
Chelsea lost 3-1 to Tottenham at Stamford Bridge last weekend to fall eight points behind Spurs in the race for a top-four spot and Champions League football next season.
Conte admits it will be tough for the reigning Premier League champions to close that gap with just seven games remaining but the Italian still wants to see his players battling until the end.
“It won’t be easy, we have to be realistic, but at the same time we have to give all of ourselves,” said Conte. “We must show pride, desire, will to fight until the end of the season — this must be our target now.”
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