At every press conference recently, Antonio Conte cuts a frustrated figure; one that can only grab things tightly or pull them down. He knows his job is far from secure. The Italian understands he could be called into a board meeting at a moment’s notice, thanked and shown the door.
Outsiders expect this to happen. If indeed this does come to fruition, Chelsea would be sacking its manager over someone else’s shortcomings.
Every time a team crumbles on the pitch, the blame goes to the players and coaching staff. Anyone with half a football brain understands it’s beyond that. There’s so much going on behind the scenes that can never be witnessed – or understood.
Take Arsenal for example. Prior to the game against Swansea, there was rumble aplenty backstage. Alexis Sanchez had left for Manchester United, and his replacement was a player who was match-rusty. Theo Walcott was on the verge of leaving. Olivier Giroud also wanted out. Alexandre Lacazette had been shooting blanks. Mesut Ozil’s contract extension was at an impasse. Expectedly, fans wanted Arsene #WengerOut. The Gooners subsequently lost 3-1 to the Swans.
With a more settled squad, buoyed by Ozil’s contract extension and the signing of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal ran riot against Everton, claiming a 5-1 victory. With a more settled team, it’s easy to predict that Wenger’s men will finish the season strong.
That scenario is similar to what’s playing out at Chelsea. The manager is unhappy – knowingly or unknowingly he’s passed that unhappiness to his squad. As a result, his team is producing the worst kind of result imaginable. It’s not helped byTiemoué Bakayoko, who can’t pass a ball or make a clean tackle.
The big question: why is Conte unhappy? Why is a once boisterous gaffer now gloomy and full of complaints? The answer lies in the Chelsea hierarchy.
To keep a manager happy, the board must support them at all times. Most managers love to have a big say on transfers. It’s one of the ways they can keep a handle on their dressing room as players tend to stay loyal to the person who sanctioned their signing. Conte isn’t any different. Matter of fact, his antecedents shows he craves playing dictator on transfers. To hear him say this:
“About the transfer market, from the summer, the club decides every single player.”
Depicted glaringly just how frustrated Conte is at the moment.
Marina Granovskaia is Chelsea’s sporting director. A Russian hotshot who has worked with Roman Abramovich for close to 18 years. Following Michael Emenalo’s resignation, Granovskaia now wields a lot of power in the Chelsea boardroom. The Russian and Canadian national is responsible for all player transactions. Furthermore, she is believed to be Abramovich’s most trusted employee.
At the end of a highly successful season, Chelsea, with Granovskaia’s endorsement, decided to sign players they “believed” would suit Conte’s style. The coach himself had little or no say in the matter. Five players were brought in. Three came in injured. The squad, meanwhile, was trimmed down by allowing academy graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah to leave on loan. The inexplicable sale of a fully-fit Nemanja Matic, replaced with an injured Bakayoko, raised many eyebrows.
In the January transfer window, more injured players were shoved on the manager; Ross Barkley, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri all arrived barely fit to compete. Conte has had to employ every trick in the book to galvanize a squad that continues to get thinner due to injury. He’s having little joy.
Marina Granovskaia’s idea to sanction the signing of at least two players for each position has failed to help the club. Chelsea has spent no less than £200 million on transfers since last summer, but it’s been a string of terrible business dealings. It is reported that both parties rarely see eye to eye. Conte now speaks to the Chelsea Director only via Carlo Cudicini.
Chelsea’s failure in the transfer market is down to Granovskaia, who sanctioned all transfers. However, it’s Conte’s head on the chopping block should those signings fall short.