Antonio Conte had just watched his side spill points by conceding a late equalizer against Arsenal. That knocked Chelsea a full 16 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League table, effectively ending any realistic push for a repeat title. So Conte can’t be judged too harshly for being emotional in the moment.
That said, he’s also probably the first person in history to suggest Chelsea is cheap.
More specifically, he referred to both Chelsea and his former club Juventus as an “austerity program” as part of his postgame rant. When asked about Chelsea’s plans to strengthen in the January transfer market, Conte didn’t hold back.
“I do not aim high with my requests,” he told Sky Sports Italia, “especially as in my history I’ve rarely been given the players I asked for. I always ended up at clubs who were running an austerity program. I just try to do my work. If someone arrives, good, if they don’t, then that’s fine too. I have to continue my work, either way.”
It’s a strange suggestion for Conte to make after Chelsea plunked down nearly $250 million in transfers this past summer. The biggest name the club’s been linked to this window is Juventus left back Alex Sandro, although transfer rumors must usually be taken with a grain of salt.
Last season, Conte led Chelsea to the Premier League title thanks in part to his unique brand of motivational intensity and tactical acuity, but he also received invaluable contributions from two summer 2016 signings, ball-hawking midfielder N’Golo Kante and rejuvenated central defender David Luiz.
So a closer scrutiny would seem to disagree with Conte’s assertion that Chelsea is being austere and conservative with its fiscal approach. Then again, it’s just the latest evidence of an increasingly fractured relationship between the notoriously fiery manager and the hard-line ownership style of Roman Abramovich, who is close allies with club director and transfer strategist Marina Granovskaia.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a situation like this played out at Chelsea, which has risen to similar successes under the similarly irritable Jose Mourinho only to watch it all fall apart in two separate stints.
Various reports have suggested for months that Conte is unhappy and wants to either return to Italy or take over another European giant, like Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain. Whether or not that’s true, it’s clear there’s a disconnect simmering at Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s style has lifted him to great heights not only at Chelsea but also at Juventus and with the Italian national team, but it’s also grated on his players at times. Striker Alvaro Morata in particular felt the wrath of Conte’s sideline remonstrations against Arsenal, when he missed several great chances and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.
“When you see that you’re missing a great chance to win the game, for sure there’s a bit of disappointment,” Conte told Sky Sports about Morata after the game.
Conte has never been afraid to say what’s on his mind, and again, there’s no arguing with his results. But it also can’t come as a surprise that all might not be well behind the scenes.
Chelsea might mend that with a couple strong signings in the coming weeks, and is still alive in the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League, despite a tough Round of 16 draw against Barcelona. Maybe the Blues can rediscover the fire of a season ago.
For now, there’s only gasoline being thrown on a different one.