COMMENT: You don’t leave Chelsea. Or to put it better. You don’t leave Roman Abramovich…
But that’s what Antonio Conte is seriously considering as he prepares for Saturday’s FA Cup final. At least, that’s what our friends in Italy are insisting.
In England, the headlines are screaming: ‘Pay me what I’m worth!’ It’s all about cash, y’see. His contract. Conte wants parity with Pep and Jose. That’s all Abramovich has to do. Just hike up his salary and he will dutifully carry on.
But in Italy, from the sources that we speak to, money isn’t the problem for Conte. It’s about control. Control of transfers. Control of the management structure. And control of the messaging between himself and Abramovich.
Cutting out the go-between, Marina Granovskaia, is now common knowledge. Conte respects Granovskaia. And he knows how close she is to Abramovich. But that’s just the problem. He’s fed-up having to go through her to speak with the Russian.
For now, the only time the manager speaks with the owner is if Abramovich initiates the conversation. Otherwise, his concerns must be relayed via Granovskaia.
And he has concerns. Many concerns. From Chelsea‘s work in the transfer market, to the coaching structure inside Cobham. The Italian has been exasperated at times with what he’s found. Though they’re on the brink of an improbable Double, Chelsea are no Juventus.
Which is exactly what Conte has told Walter Sabatini…
A month ago those rumours about Inter Milan, Suning to be accurate, tempting Conte back to Italy were the stuff of fantasy calcio. It made no sense. As much as Conte was frustrated with what he was dealing with at Chelsea, there was no way he was going to swap that for the chaos at Inter. Three coaching changes in less than a season. Players being boycotted by fans. A split board of Italian and Chinese interests. It’s a mess.
But it’s a mess that has now enlisted the wily Sabatini. A confidant of Conte’s. The man the Blues manager urged Abramovich to hire before the end of last season. A friend who has now met with Conte – in London – three times in the past ten days. Getting the picture? In Milan they’re bullish. If there’s any chance of Inter, no matter how slim, of convincing Conte to walk out of London after just the one season, it will rest on Sabatini.
During those conversations, Sabatini has explained the ‘project’ he and fellow director Piero Ausilio are putting together. All backed by the unlimited spending power of Suning. €150 million will be made available to the new coach this summer – plus whatever is generated from sales. Conte will have final say on all transfer decisions and he’ll be working in a structure and with people he knows and respects. Where at Juve he found Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici. With Inter it will be Sabatini and Ausilio. Where he had constant contact with president Andrea Agnelli at Juve. At Inter, he’ll find Javier Zanetti – and Steven Zhang.
And this is the contrast which Sabatini has put to Conte. At Chelsea, while his powers are limited, in terms of the club’s public face, Conte’s it. Abramovich, Granovskaia, Michael Emenalo. You never hear a peep from them. Which is fine when Chelsea are winning, but, as Sabatini quizzed his friend, what happens when that inevitable slump occurs? Who’s available to share the burden? As he did in that awkward first month, Conte has no problem fronting up. But it does help to have support. Which is what Sabatini is offering Conte.
Inter’s interest has been dismissed by many in England as simple paper talk. But they’re serious about Conte. It’s why they, like Chelsea, have sounded out Genoa‘s primavera coach, the highly-regarded Cristian Stellini, about moving to Milan.
Stellini is rated by Conte and he’s sent out feelers about his former Bari defender joining him in London. For Chelsea fans, a good sign. And Stellini has declared he’d be happy to consider relocating to London. But, as it stands, Conte won’t have final say. It will up to messrs Emenalo and Granovskaia to OK the move. In contrast, Inter’s approach has been driven by Stellini’s relationship with Conte. They’re doing everything they can to convince him…
Which is why Abramovich needs to act. Money always helps, but throwing it at this problem is no guarantee of solving it.
It’s a simple demand: better communication. Abramovich needs to give Conte his number, or risk losing the first manager of his 14-year reign.