Chelsea, as a collective, have undergone an incredible change this season.
However, it is the change of individuals within the team that offer the starkest example of Conte’s huge impact. Upon joining Chelsea last summer, the Italian’s first press conference was notable for one reason in particular, namely the emphasis he placed on a strong work ethic.
Indeed, Conte used the word ‘work’ or a derivative of it 32 times in a press conference that lasted less than an hour that day.
He described himself as a “worker who likes to work” and if there were any doubt as to how hard he would push his Chelsea team this season he announced that “I only know this verb: to work, work, work.”
By the end of September the fruits of these labours were difficult to detect, but times have changed. Since losing 3-0 at Arsenal, Chelsea have collected 59 points from a possible 66. This period has seen them drop points in just three games. Conte’s work ethic has clearly been central to this outstanding success, and he insists the title is far from won.
The public will likely need little convincing that the next number of weeks will see Chelsea worked as hard as ever at their Cobham training complex, as Conte keeps his charges’ feet firmly on the ground. It’s hard to gripe with such a mentality in light of the success it has brought to Stamford Bridge, and it has clearly rubbed off on the players.
David Luiz confirmed as much following his side’s latest victory, away at Stoke. The Brazilian was eager to quash any talks that the Premier League title had been sewn up already, despite the fact that Chelsea sat 13 points clear atop the table after that win. As quoted on Chelseafc.com, he said:
“It was a typical Premier League game, we’re happy with the victory but it’s still a long way to win the title.
“Nobody makes it easy, always it is difficult to play here. They are a strong and physical team.”
In a nod to Conte’s emphasis on working hard, Luiz went on to say:
“I try to improve every day. This is my goal,” he said.
“Everybody can see my football, the team is doing very well. The results are coming.”
Indeed, the results of such work in Luiz’s case are particularly evident. Much of the Stamford Bridge faithful were disappointed when the club failed to secure the services of Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus or Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli last Summer.
Gary Neville had even likened Luiz to a Fifa player controlled by a 10-year-old. Conte’s tactical nous and supreme work ethic have both clearly rubbed off on the 29-year-old, however, now widely considered to be one of the most competent centre-halves in the league.
This week’s international break has seen much of Chelsea’s squad plying their trade for love of country rather than love of Conte. Upon their return, however, the latter will waste little time in re-asserting itself, manifest in dedication, discipline and, of course, working hard.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena