Former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton believes that the club’s appointment of current Italy national coach Antonio Conte ‘does not make any sense’.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live Sutton said, “If the players have downed tools before there is every suggestion that, with Conte being a similar type to Mourinho, they will down tools again. If he comes in and starts hitting the players with a whip, are they going to respond?”
The 46-year-old former Juventus player and manager has been confirmed as Chelsea’s next head coach, with the Italian due to take over at Stamford Bridge after this summer’s European Championships in France. Sutton, though, isn’t convinced it’s the right decision, saying, “Bringing in a similar type of manager to Mourinho in Conte doesn’t make any sense to me”.
Chelsea have been looking for a new permanent manager since the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, decided to sack Jose Mourinho last December. The Portuguese manager was in the third year of his second spell at the club, having led the Blues to the title in the 2014-2015 season. The 2015-2016 campaign started appallingly, though, with the defending Premier League champions enduring their worst start to a top-flight season since the 1960s.
Abramovich appointed Guus Hiddink as an interim manager for the second time during his ownership of the West London club, with the Dutchman’s first spell coming after Brazilian Luis Felipe Scolari was sacked in February of 2009. Conte will be the twelfth manager of the Abramovich era, though Ray Wilkins and Steve Holland were both in charge for just one game.
Two former Chelsea players disagree with Sutton’s analysis of the appointment of Conte. Andy Townsend, who played for both Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland in midfield, said, “I don’t think Conte will be far removed from what Jose was like at his very best. Jose captured the attention of the players when he arrived. There was an intensity about what he did, the players responded and enjoyed working under that sort of regime. I feel Conte will do the same”.
Ex-Scotland and Blues midfielder Pat Nevin agreed with Townsend. He said, “People think of him as a one-system manager. He’s not. He’s always been very adaptable”.
For Sutton, however, the appointment of Guus Hiddink on a more permanent basis would have made more sense. The 69-year-old has not lost a Premier League game since taking over from the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, taking them from 16th in the table to 10th. Sutton feels he would have been a ‘good option’, and said, “It is working under him – the team have improved beyond all recognition”.
One of the most pressing concerns that Conte will want to address is the future of John Terry. The former England captain’s contract expires this summer and as things currently stand there is no sign of the club looking to extend it. Both Sutton and Townsend believe that extending Terry’s contract makes sense, especially as Chelsea won’t have Champions League football to offer potential signings next season.
Sutton, who was signed by Chelsea for £10 million in 1999, said, “If you want to play Champions League football you go to best teams. Chelsea are going to find signing top players tough…They have got to keep John Terry at the club in some capacity. I think Conte will keep him purely on his playing ability”.
This sentiment was echoed by Townsend who said, “If Conte turns up and wants to play three centre-backs, then I don’t see why John couldn’t play for another 12 months in that system”.
Interestingly the bookmakers believe that Conte is more likely to be sacked before the end of next season than to win the Premier League. Roman Abramovich has a history of sacking managers if they don’t immediately produce good performances, often removing them from their position even if they have won trophies. The Blues had an incredible eight different managers during the six years years between the sacking of Jose Mourinho after his first spell in charge and he re-hiring in 2013.