Antonio Conte has given the biggest hint yet that he may not be Chelsea’s manager next season as his players prepare for what is certain to be an emotional clash against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Former club captain Ray Wilkins, 61, is fighting for his life in St George’s Hospital, London, after a heart attack, and messages of a speedy recovery are pouring in after news he was in an induced coma broke late on Friday. He had undergone double heart bypass surgery last July.
He remains a much-loved figure at Stamford Bridge, where he first skippered the side at 18 before going on to play for Manchester United, AC Milan, Paris St-Germain, Rangers and QPR in a glittering career which garnered 84 England caps. He returned as assistant manager at Chelsea for two years from 2008, and had a brief spell as caretaker.
Chelsea sent a goodwill message on Twitter. It read: “The thoughts of everybody at Chelsea Football Club are with Ray Wilkins and his family tonight. Keep fighting Ray, you have our love and support.”
Before news of Wilkins’ illness broke, Conte was asked if he would still be in charge next season. He replied: “I don’t know. I must be honest. I don’t know. This is not my problem. It’s a problem for the club. It’s not my problem.”
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 31, 2018
Chelsea are five points behind Spurs, who occupy the final Champions League position, ahead of a must-win encounter with their London rivals.
Lose, and Chelsea’s chances of snatching that last berth will be gone, Conte admitted.
It will evoke memories of their May 2016 clash when Chelsea came back from two goals down to grab a draw in a bad-tempered match, so scuppering Tottenham’s championship ambitions and sending the Premier League title to Leicester City.
Asked about bringing in players in the summer if his team fail to make the top four, Conte, 48, said: “I would like not to speak about the transfer market because for me it is a difficult topic. It is not the right moment. We must be focused on the final of the season to try to reach our targets.”
The infamous Battle of the Bridge two years ago resulted in 12 yellow cards, but Conte wants his players to display the same passion as he does and has no plans to calm his men down before they step on to the pitch.