Antonio Conte admitted on Saturday that he finds rumours of his imminent departure from Stamford Bridge amusing and that he takes it all ‘with a smile’, having only been in the job for a few months.
The new Chelsea boss took over in West London after having led the Italy national side to the European Championship finals in France this summer. The British bookmakers believed that the former Juventus boss had more chance of being sacked from his new job than of winning the Premier League, according to the odds available at the time of his appointment. He led the Blues to three straight victories in their opening three games, however, ensuring he didn’t come under immediate pressure in the job.
Chelsea suffered a difficult September, though, drawing 2-2 with Swansea at The Liberty Stadium before losing 2-1 at home to Liverpool. Rumours emerged after the loss to Jürgen Klopp’s side that the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, had held late night meetings with his director’s to decide on the manager’s future. These rumours were denied by the club, however a 3-0 loss away to Arsenal on the last weekend of the month did little to alleviate the pressure the Italian coach was under.
Football stories are notoriously thin on the ground during an international break, so the press were keen to report the news that several bookmakers had suspended betting on Antonio Conte being sacked as Chelsea manager in the coming days when it happened in the middle of last week. But Conte was unfazed by the rumours, saying, “I am trying to find out who put the money on, it’s very difficult”.
The 47-year-old refused to be drawn on the matter, insisting that his job was to figure out how to win games for Chelsea and help the club return to the top end of the table after they endured a troubled campaign last time out. He said, “It is difficult to talk about the situation because I am focused about my work and improving the team”.
The former Juventus player and manager was also quick to praise Chelsea officials for keeping him in the loop on everything and ensuring he feels secure in the job. Given the Blues’ poor start to the campaign last season – their worst in the top-flight since the 1960s – Conte believes it will take time to get the club back where it feels it belongs. He said, “I have a good relationship and communication with the club…We are working very hard to change the situation of the past, and the last season…We are trying to build something important for the present, for the future, and you can build only through the work and with time. But, I repeat, it is important to be focused in our target now”.
Chelsea beat Leicester City 3-0 at the weekend, sending them up to fifth place in the league table, level on points with Liverpool having played a game more. Conte admitted he was pleased to see former Blues manager Claudio Ranieri lift the Premier League title with Chelsea last season. He said, “I was very happy, not only me, but the Italian people that Claudio won a fantastic title. He had a great celebration in Italy. He is a good manager, a good man and I have a good relationship with him”.