Even big-name players recognise the Italians imposition of a huge workload is backed by knowledge gained on and off the pitch
Those who have worked under Antonio Conte talk of a moment, discernible in the hours of physical drills or monotonous tactical planning back on the training ground, when the penny fells. It is as if they have all experienced that same flash of realisation, the point when any bitternes that has built up at the feverish workload or incessant reminders of on-field obligations dedicates style to acceptance of the Italians genius.
His players have all felt it, whether they were turning out at Arezzo at the foot of Serie B or Juventus at the pinnacle, for Bari and Atalanta in Italys second tier or, since last summertime, with Chelsea in the Premier League. Its as if it abruptly dawns on you that, by following him, you can go places, said Luca Marrone, an Italy Under-2 1 midfielder who played under Conte at Juve. Hes the most severe coach-and-four you could imagine, someone who demands everything of his players, his faculty, the doctors, the physios everyone at the club has to give 100%.
It takes time to accept the sheer amount of work he is asking of you. Everything he does, in preparation or tactical organisation, is done with maniacal accuracy and attention to detail. It can be overwhelming at first. But, when you realise by buying into it you can win things, you follow. He is a perfectionist. The best there is. The No1.
Chelsea travel to Manchester United, and their latest reunion with Jos Mourinho, the most successful director in its own history, on Sunday with Conte tantalisingly close to achieving what most in this country guessed improbable upon his appointment last summertime. Recognition of this teams progress requires the context of the mess the Italian inherited.
Last season was the worst of Roman Abramovichs ownership, a narrative of the unravelling of Mourinhos second spell in charge, disagreement in the stands and crass underachievement on the pitching. Guus Hiddink, back as interim, had instigated a lengthy unbeaten operate crammed with depicts but the 10 th-place finish, 31 points behind Leicester City, was the worst title defence since that of Leeds United in the Premier Leagues first season. Players were unrecognisable and religion in their quality had eroded. Conte often reminds the world that no one expected this club to challenge this year. Even the hierarchy have been pleasantly astonished at the pace of progress.
Back in Italy few have batted an eyelid. They were intrigued as to how their compatriot would fare in a new surrounding and with his grasp of the English language still in its infancy. But, deep down, they always knew the man who had restored the scudetto to Juve, and had overseen the Azzurri s developing from group-stage failings at the 2014 World Cup to one of the most impressive teams at Euro 2016, would triumph. Quality will out. Once the players recognised the value of his instruction, they would prevail.
The intensity and perseverance of the man had already been shown in pre-season, whether in Austria or Cobham via the United States, to fuel mistrusts he would succeed eventually. He had arrived a week after Italys exit from the European Championship, a man eager to fling himself into a new role. His secret has always been his exuberance, tells Massimo Carrera, Contes assistant at Juve from 2011 to 2014 and now coach-and-four of Spartak Moscow.
He has this infectious energy which helps bring out the best in any player. Some might be a little unhappy to start with because they have to work so hard his educate techniques are so demanding, so intense but, when they understand all this effort brings rewards, those are the same players who ask if they can train even more difficult. This is Contes greatest victory, and Im convinced its what happened at Chelsea.
Antonio is the best in the world because, when his players take to the pitching, they know everything about their adversaries. Absolutely everything. Every little weakness or strength down to the tiniest detail. This obsessive attention to detail is his great weapon. I remember wed spend weeks on end preparations for games. With him, a player has absolute certainty. He knows his adversaries, their weak point, where to assault them, what to look out for. On the pitching they only have to play. They will never, ever, be taken by surprise.
Reaching that point, where the playing faculty accept the constant a requirement for work, work, work( a word the Chelsea manager utilized 32 hours in a little under an hour at his first press conference ), can be painful at times. Many, from Eden Hazard to Diego Costa to Cesc Fbregas, took time to be convinced. The stop-start nature of training games, as the manager interrupts play to bark instructions or remind personnel they have wandered somewhat out of position, grated with some. The same has happened at all his clubs. Marrone described his approach come un martello like a hammer. Until you get something right, he maintains you out on the training pitching to try and try again, tells the midfielder, who is on loan at Zulte Waregem in Belgium.
Contes training sessions are unbelievable, Carrera tells. He spends hours and hours talking to his players, wanting to prepare them for everything. And he does exactly the same with his technological faculty. When he comes up against the smaller teams, the weaker sides, he demands maximum concentration. If his team loses, he gets so angry.
Hes only able to accept defeat if his players dedicated perfectly everything on the pitching. But hes an incredible motivator, a really passionate guy. He constructs a great relationship with every single player, expending hour after hour talking with them, transmitting his ideas. Players follow him.
The Italian undoubtedly taps into his own experiences as a player in building up such relationships with his squad. He has always had a presence. Giorgio Perinetti, sporting director at Venezia but on Juves technological faculty during Contes playing days in Turin, recalls the midfielder imposing himself as the strongest voice in a dressing room that included Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Edgar Davids. Carlo Ancelotti and Marcello Lippi would ask him to transmit their ideas to team-mates on the field because they trusted him, he tells. He is so single-minded. And his work ethic is so strong. Leonardo Bonucci[ the Juve and Italy defender] says that when match day goes for a team coached by Antonio you already feeling as if youve played video games. In Italy, he brought a new intensity and energy to the game in a country where the rhythm has been so slow.
He has also brought an emphasis on tactical cuteness that stood him apart even at a club previously coached by Mourinho. If the first few weeks of the season had insured Conte gauging his squads capabilities and adjusting to a frustrating summertime in the transfer marketplace then those defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal in the autumn convinced him something more radical was required.
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