Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola has admitted he is surprised by just how quickly former international team-mate Antonio Conte has been able to whip the squad into shape since arriving in July.
Chelsea will be six points clear at the top of the Premier League on Christmas Day, with Conte having implemented a new formation and a fresh mentality after the club slipped to a disastrous 10th place finish as last season’s defending champions.
“I’ve been very impressed because I didn’t expect him to achieve what he has so early, but I know Antonio, I know his qualities as a coach and I had no doubt he was going to do a good job,” Zola told ChelseaFC.com.
“What is good is that he’s been able to get into the system so quickly,” he added.
“I hope they continue with the way they’re going because the challenges this season are big, both for him as a coach and Chelsea as a team, so I hope they can keep that consistency and continuity until the end of the season.”
Zola, who was recently appointed new manager at promotion chasing Birmingham City, encountered Conte as an opponent during the ex-midfielder’s time at Juventus and admired him even then.
“Antonio was one of those people you never wanted to play against because he was tough and he would never give up. He was the type of player you would always respect because you can only admire the character and personality of players like that,” the Italian explained.
“I also played with him for the national team at the 1994 World Cup. He was a good team-mate and when you had him alongside you on the pitch you always knew you could rely on him. It’s important to have players like that in the team, they make a side more solid and more together.”
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