Chelsea’s new head coach Antonio Conte is preparing for his first game in English football tonight when Chelsea take on their London rivals West Ham and he told Sky Sports that he’s slowly adjusting to life in the country’s capital.
One of the Italian’s first jobs was to learn English, a language he had previously not got around to mastering. Having moved his entire family outside of Italy for the first time in his career, Conte felt it was important to speak English fluently for everyone’s sake. He said, “It’s a big challenge for me, but not just for me, for my wife, for my daughter – for my whole family. For the first time we arrive in a different country, a fantastic country with different language and different habits. It’s important we respect the story of the country – that we breathe another air”.
It is not just Conte who will be mastering the English language this year, with the former Italy national manager insisting that it is the language of the Chelsea dressing room. The 47-year-old is expecting everyone in his team to be able to communicate in English without the use of a translator – something that is not currently the case.
Conte has been surprised by some of the differences between life in Italy and in England. The players like to listen to music in the dressing room before a match, for example, which the Italian players would never have done. Conte, “Music in the dressing room before the game in strange to me. In Italy there’s a lot of concentration and focus and you want your players focused. But here I look at the situation and say, ‘Why not?’”
Conte is keen to return Chelsea to the upper echelons of the Premier League after they finished tenth last season. Their poor start to the campaign led to the sacking of José Mourinho, with the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ having overseen the worst start to a top-flight campaign at Stamford Bridge since the 1960s. Guus Hiddink came in to replace him on an interim basis, much as he did in the 2008-2009 season when Luis Felipe Scolari was removed from the dugout by Roman Abramovich after a similarly poor start.
Returning a club to their former glory is something Conte has been asked to do in the past. When he took over as manager at Juventus, a club he had previously been on the books of during his playing days, they had suffered successive seventh-placed finishes in Serie A. The Italian led them to three Serie A titles in his three seasons there.
Pressure, then, is not something that bothers Conte. He said, “I feel great pressure but it is important to live with that pressure and focus on my work. I live football with great passion and this passion gives me the will to improve and the ambition to meet every challenge I face”.
Billionaire Roman Abramovich has invested heavily to buy success in West London and Conte is more than aware of the need to ensure he does not disappoint his new paymaster. He told Sky Sports, “The story of this club is that very, very soon, we must return to fighting for the title. This is what the owner wants, what the fans want, what the players want and what I want”.
Chelsea and West Ham are the final game of the first weekend since the return of the Premier League, with some explosive matches having already got people talking. Hull, who are without a permanent manager and have been ravaged by injuries, beat defending champions Leicester City 2-1 on Saturday before Liverpool took all three points in a seven goal thriller against Arsenal at the Emirates yesterday. Conte will be hoping that the Blues join Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City by getting their season off to a winning start.