The announcement that Antonio Conte would take over the permanent manager’s job at Stamford Bridge has been met with considerable excitement and even more confidence is his abilities as the Chelsea boss. But the hiring – while arguably the biggest shakeup in European football going into the 2016-17 season – raises a fairly significant question:
What exactly was the point of firing Jose Mourinho if the eventual plan was to hire someone with a nearly-identical style of engaging his players and clashing with the media?
If the purpose of firing Mourinho was that he simply needed to be gone, that’s a fair point to make as his behaviour was atrocious in the final months of his tenure, and the losing had reached critical mass. But if Mourinho’s firing was due to the way he treated the players and imposed his will on his enemies from the comfort of a press conference chair, Antonio Conte won’t exactly change that.
Conte has a reputation as a fiery disciplinarian and has made plenty of enemies in the media relating to his treatment during the match-fixing scandal from his time with the smaller Italian clubs. How will players with even bigger egos and bigger personalities on the Chelsea squad (Costa? Mikel? Fabregas? Terry if he comes back?) react to yet another manager who’s can be wound as tight as a garrote?
The Blues have proven in the five months since Mourinho left that they don’t need a fire-and-brimstone speech giver to get them to run through walls, just a bright mind who let’s the players play and isn’t afraid to take risks in his gameplan.
Ironically, the ideal type of candidate for Chelsea right now would be someone with a gentle touch that doesn’t kick them in the pants after every draw or loss – someone like Guus Hiddink or even Claudio Ranieri. But Hiddink is six weeks away from retirement and Ranieri is only 12 points from pulling off the greatest managerial season in Premier League history. Neither of them are options, so by all accounts it looks like Chelsea wanted the man who was the most successful with the fewest resources as opposed to the man who will immediately click with his players.
Conte is a bonafide coaching genius, of course, and perhaps all it will take is a Champions League return to cement for him to endear himself to players, fans and media alike. After all, Jose Mourinho still led Chelsea to the Premier League title just last year.
But: if the winning ways do not return to Stamford Bridge as quickly as they did with either Mourinho or Hiddink, Chelsea could find itself wishing that they had gone for the perfect fit as opposed to the perfect name.
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