Lack of support signal Antonio Conte's Chelsea future on line

Power is draining from Conte at Stamford Bridge as quickly as Chelsea is hemorrhaging points, and his authority is diminishing.

Published: 02nd February 2018 04:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd February 2018 04:35 AM   |  A+A-

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, right, looks dejected after Bournemouth's second goal as Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, left, waits the be substituted during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Bournemouth. | AP

By Associated Press

LONDON: Chelsea doesn't even mask its protracted divorce from Antonio Conte.

Power is draining from Conte at Stamford Bridge as quickly as Chelsea is hemorrhaging points, and his authority is diminishing.

The leadership at the English Premier League champion makes no pretense, offering Conte no public backing to stem the flow of reports that the manager will be out at the end of the season.

Even Jose Mourinho received Chelsea's "full support" in a 2015 statement two months before another Stamford Bridge communique to announce the manager's firing.

Conte will be discovering — just like Mourinho — that even winning the Premier League offers little protection against the whims of owner Roman Abramovich. Not when there is little prospect of Chelsea retaining the trophy, especially after losing at home to Bournemouth 3-0 on Wednesday.

With 13 games remaining, Chelsea is 18 points behind runaway leader Manchester City. The alarm bells will be ringing in the Chelsea boardroom that the fourth-place team is clinging onto the Champions League places by only two points. To win the European Cup, Chelsea first needs to get past Barcelona in the round of 16.

European income is significant for a club that made an operating loss in the last financial year. The figure was not disclosed ; only the more positive figures reflecting a revenue rise were released.

Chelsea cannot obscure results on the pitch in the same manner. The Blues were dumped out of the League Cup a week ago by Arsenal, although progress was subsequently secured in the FA Cup. But in the league, seven points have been dropped in the last four games alone.

Transfer deadline day on Wednesday might have produced a partial fix for the attacking malaise with Olivier Giroud signed from Arsenal and Michy Batshuayi offloaded to Borussia Dortmund. The France striker will still be the only target man available for Conte at Watford on Monday.

Just what does Giroud believe he can add?

"My hold-up play, my link-up play and my efficiency in front of goal. That's not bad," he said. "My team spirit, too. My mental strength as well is good, because you go through difficulties sometimes in a season and you have to be strong and try to keep the strong team cohesion."

After almost six years playing under Arsene Wenger, Giroud is starting a new spell under Conte's guidance.

"I don't know him very well but I like the positive energy he brings from the side of the pitch," Giroud said, "always supporting his players, talking to them."

But for how much longer?

Conte has been agitating and moaning for months about his failure to exert control, particularly over transfers.

The warning signs were there in the offseason when Conte was beaten to the signing of Romelu Lukaku by Manchester United and Fernando Llorente by Tottenham.

Conte has not concealed just how limited his ability is to determine the players at his disposal.

"My task is to try to improve the transfer market," he said just before the transfer window closed. "From the summer, the club decides every player."

Especially when managers are so readily discarded by Abramovich.

"If you look at the stats you can see that in 14 years 10 managers were sacked in this club," Conte said. "But, when you are sure about your work and that you are doing everything to improve this club and to work in this way with the players, under this aspect I am very relaxed, calm. I don't have this type of worry."

Although Conte was handed a new contract after delivering the fifth Premier League title since Abramovich took over the team in 2003, only the pay was improved with the deal still running for only another two seasons. It was hardly a show of faith by the club or a sign of the former Italy and Juventus coach's commitment to sticking around Stamford Bridge.

"I think about the pressure and it is normal for a coach," Conte said after Chelsea's fifth league loss of the season on Wednesday. "It is normal if you are Chelsea's coach. We are doing everything and giving 120 percent, and I am approaching this squad at their maximum level, but if someone does not agree that I am here then you have to accept every situation. I am relaxed about this because I know I am doing a great job."

Within constraints, perhaps. The friction within the club and grumbling from Conte suggests all is not well as another Chelsea title defense drifts into irrelevancy.


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