Yesterday Chelsea confirmed Antonio Conte as their next manager.
Conte is currently in charge of the Italian national team and will take over at Stamford Bridge following Euro 2016. The 46-year-old Italian signed a three year contract with the London club.
Conte’s appointment was not a surprise. Since the departure of José Mourinho in December 2015, Conte had been the favourite to take over from interim boss, Guus Hiddink. His appointment yesterday is the eighth of the Abramovich epoch at Chelsea.
Speaking about the announcement, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said:
“Antonio Conte has a record of consistent success in his career as a manager and as a player. We look forward to welcoming him to Stamford Bridge and are confident he will find all he needs to maintain that high standard of achievement.”
Conte’s achievements are evident. As Juventus manager he led the club to three consecutive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2014 as well as two Italian Super Cups. Prior to his managerial stint with I Bianconeri, Conte oversaw Bari’s Serie B title winning season in 2009. 2 years later he would also secure promotion to Serie A for Siena.
Former Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo spoke of Conte in glowing terms in his 2015 autobiography.
“He needed only one speech, with many simple words, to conquer both me and Juventus,” said the great midfielder. “He had fire running through his veins and he moved like a viper. ‘This squad, dear boys, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes. It’s crazy. It’s shocking. I am not here for this, so it’s time to stop being so crap.’… When Conte speaks, his words assault you. They crash through the doors of your mind. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said: ‘Hell, Conte said something really spot-on again today.”
The positives are self evident. Conte is a man who extracts the best from his players. He is a man who gets results. Yet beneath his managerial Dr. Jekyll, lies the darker Mr. Hyde.
Scandal and controversy are never far removed from Italian football. Just 5 years after their 2006 World Cup success and synchronous corruption scandal involving AC Milan and Juventus among others, Italian football was embrolied in a match fixing scandal. Scommessopoli, as it became known, involved mostly lower league club sides, and led Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to offer to withdraw the national side from Euro 2012. In total, 37 clubs were punished alongside a multitude of players and officials. Among the players prosecuted was Siena midfielder, Filippo Carobbio. The Siena manager at the time was Antonio Conte.
As well as being in the news as Chelsea’s new manager, Conte is also up in court on charges of sporting fraud. The charges against Conte concern a game between Siena and AlbinoLeffe toward the latter stages of the 2011 season. Filippo Carobbio alleges that a deal was struck between the two clubs to fix the game for whomever was in most need of the points. The ex-midfielder has accused many within the club of being aware of the plan. Despite not being directly involved, Conte is accussed of failing to report the plan. AlbinoLeffe won 1-0 against already promoted Siena. Their win saved them from relegation to the third tier of Italian football. Conte received a four month ban from football for failing to report match fixing.
His trial continues this week with his defence arguments due to begin next Monday. His legal team expect nothing more than a suspended sentence.
“There won’t be any practical consequence; nevertheless in the case of conviction, Conte will certainly feel very sorry for suffering such a grave injustice.” said one of his lawyers this week.
Unfortunately the innuendo surrounding Conte does not stop at match fixing. He was signed to Juventus in 1991 by Giovanni Trappatoni. The Bianconeri had not won a league title since 1986, yet underwent a sparkling resurgence with Conte as their captain. Root and branch reform at the club instituted by the club’s benefactors saw the promotion of Riccardo Agricola to the position of team doctor. The next decade would be among the club’s most successful. 3 Serie A titles were complimented by 3 consecutive Champions League final appearances, winning the competition in 1996.
2 years after the Champions League success, an investigation into illegal doping was launched in Turin. During a raid on Juventus’ training ground, some 281 different types of drugs were found. Of these 281 types, few were on the banned list. Yet the sheer wealth of pharmaceuticals at the club hinted at something more clandestine. Independent expert, Eugenio Muller alleged that the club was prescribing drugs to its players with no therapeutic grounds. The principal aim of the prescriptions was boosting energy levels and abetting recovery.
In 2002, Agricola was sentenced to 22 months in prison for supplying Juventus players with performance enhancing drugs. Among the drugs he was found guilty of supplying was EPO. Among the players who admitted to taking a series of drugs was current Real Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane. Conte has never admitted to taking drugs whilst at Juventus.
The appointment of Conte is a good one for Chelsea’s on pitch fortunes. The parallels between the Italian and other managerial behemoths such as Alex Ferguson and José Morinho should provide for an exciting 2016/2017 season for the club. Yet one cannot ignore Conte’s questionable past. While he strongly denies the claims, associations with match fixing and illegal doping should not sit easy with Chelsea fans who are desperate for a more stable season than that which they have had to endure this year.