CONTE: THE BLUES’ MODERN DAY PICASSO

conte

 

Artists are born and not made. It is an innate talent that can only blossom under beautiful nights and landscapes of Italy. If you doubt it, just ask art and paintings enthusiasts and they would gleefully tell you about ‘Picasso’.

Picasso, a revered Italian artist epitomizes the symbol of beauty, aura and perfection in the arts world. His artistic style and unique features have somewhat rubbed off on Italy’s footballing landscape, churning out quality Italian coaches who have made their marks on the peninsula, and the continent. Famed for Catenaccio and emphasis on tactics, Italy has imprinted her trademark on football world via her players and now, coaches.

And out of the duo that is courting more frenzy and admiration are her Coaches-where one in particular easily comes to mind in the mold of Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.

The Blues latest Italian coaching import needs no introduction. He already boasts of a storied tale that has seen him traverse the coaching landscape from Italy’s Serie B with Salernitana to the country’s topflight with a sleeping giant in Juventus and on the international scene with the Azzurris. However, it was with the Old Lady that he finally breathed life to his paintings.

Awakening a sleeping giant, leading them to domestic glories-league and cup titles- and a last 16 appearances on two occasions in the UCL, Conte laid the foundation on which current Juve boss, Max Allegri has built.

His achievements were no flukes, eager to prove critics wrong that he thoroughly deserves to gate crash the elites’ list of VIP coaches, Chelsea was the perfect place to show his managerial artistry.

Like a brave Roman officer he took up a job; a herculean one that could either make or mar his career.

He himself even acknowledged it as he basked in the glory of winning the EPL on his debut season.

“It is not easy to come for the first time to a country where the language is different, the environment and most importantly the football culture.”

A salient point for a Lion that ventured into an uncharted territory packed with either hyenas or fellow Lions from another pride.

Conte ventured into unknown waters at Chelsea; murky waters that he had to delicately chart its course after Jose Mourinho left it marshy.

In arranging his colours and brushes, he banked on his eagle-eyed vision to see and spot from afar talents already within the squad that many had thought were surplus to requirement and quality that fans were made to believe had expired.

Return of rejected stones in Nigeria’s Victor Moses-who had spent large chunk of his time at Chelsea on loans-and Brazil’s David Luiz from PSG was only the beginning of good things to come from the Italian.

Further colorings-less expensive brands that would have courted little or no attention from Chelsea’s Russian billionaire- like Ngolo Kante, Marcus Alonso and Michy Batshuayi were acquired to give distinct color mixtures as the Italian began work on his painting.

And as he started his painting, the passion-driven Italian, so finicky with his drawing, was uncomfortable with his positioning and thereby decided to change it. Conte had to. After sticking to the ‘brush and art board’ his Portuguese predecessor used, defeats to two direct rivals in Liverpool and mostly especially Arsenal in September finally pushed him to ditch Mourinho’s and use his.

The tactical formation switch from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 was a master stroke that allowed the Italian to finally paint seamlessly. Chelsea went on 13-game unbeaten streak that left in its wake casualties in the two Manchester clubs, direct London rivals in Spurs and Arsenal; a crucial factor that aided Chelsea’s assault on the league.

It was a roller-coaster that the entire playing squad seemed to have enjoyed.

From a ‘disappearing’ Eden Hazard who had now found his magic brush to a voiceless and disillusioned Diego Costa who all of a sudden found the ‘hunger’ to play again to super signing-never say die-Kante to Nigerian international Victor Moses whose transformation has caught everyone by surprise to David Luiz who many had thought was an overrated defender and queried Conte for bringing him back to Stamford Bridge and the likes of Cesc Fabregas who was forced to improve on his defensive side of the game, it was evident that they have all been infected by the Italian’s passion, drive and hunger.

Like Pirlo rightly pointed out and warned Chelsea players “he is a monster, driven by passion and results. He is demanding and Blues stars must wake up” ahead of his former boss arrival at the Bridge this season, Conte had proven his former player right.

While critics would rightly say that he inherited a quality side from Mourinho, however, they forgot to acknowledge his canny instincts and ability to not only reawaken dead wood –that aptly describe the lot of Chelsea players after a terrible campaign last season-but also identify his players’ characteristics and employ them in the best way possible to get the desired results-Victor Moses easily comes to mind again.

From the peripheral to a main and important player in the team this campaign, Conte has tread a path his predecessor won’t dare take. It takes guts to switch formation and invest your faith in a player who had been on the sidelines of the main squad for a long time. But, he did it. He took the risk with Moses and luckily, the Nigerian has repaid that trust.

To cut the long story short, his man-management skills on and off the pitch also took the heat off Chelsea. In the face of provocation from the petulant Portuguese in charge at Old Trafford, he showed class and guile and in defeats, he never blamed his players neither did he find excuses- This was exemplified after the 2-0 loss to Man U at Old Trafford as he accepted the blame and admitted “I failed to psychologically prepare the lads for the match”.

That is the mettle Conte is made up of. He is a valiant warrior that celebrates victories and accepts defeats. His touchlines theatrical celebrations when he wins and sober figure when he loses show the two-side of the coin that makes up Conte.

His debut season abroad so far has gone well. It is another storied chapter of his career.

His works have not gone unnoticed on the isle. Fellow EPL managers have somehow copied his formation-even respected City boss, Pep Guardiola was flattered, reserving praises for his ingenuity with the 3-4-3 formation and admittedly accepted that the Chelsea boss was the ‘fairest of them all’ in the wake of his side’s 3-1 defeat to the Londoners at the Etihad in December.

However, as the celebration goes on in London, the players and the club directors should appreciate how the beautiful paintings of their Italian import panned out-a beautiful piece of art with a ‘picassoesque’ touch. It is a complete masterpiece that only shows that ‘Italian coaches’ are still the finest and most sought after in football’s vineyards.

 

 

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