COMMENT: Take it the right way, Roman. Please take this week’s comments from your manager with the spirit it was intended.
If the belief was with Michael Emenalo stepping down, that Antonio Conte would pull back from his complaining about how the front office is running Chelsea, then Roman Abramovich was sure in for a surprise this week.
Combative. Aggressive. Conte wasn’t holding back when pushed about Thibaut Courtois‘ contract situation. And it has to be said – the Italian gave Blues fans an awful lot more than the player had earlier in the week in Baku.
Conte went for the throat.
“I must be honest, I think that this question is for the club, not for me,” he began.
“I like to give my opinion about technical decisions. It is important for the club to face this issue, to face this contract with Courtois.”
In other words, stop dithering. Stop avoiding the issue. And get this thing settled. Chelsea have on it’s hands a world-beater, don’t let him slip away…
Conte said as much with, “For sure I can tell that Courtois is one of the best, maybe the best goalkeeper in the world, and he is a player who is very important for Chelsea. I can tell this. But for sure the renewal is a task for the club.”
And there was a warning. Courtois’ contract runs to 2019. There is time, as Conte highlighted. But again, the message was clear: don’t mess this up.
“If a big player decides to not sign a new contract it is difficult for a club to try to avoid this issue,” he added. “But at the same time I think there is space to try to deal with the issue and try to solve the situation.”
If there’s an ego about Marina Granovskaia, then it will have been burning that afternoon. With Emenalo gone, the focus is now on Abramovich’s lieutenant. Granovskaia has ditched plans to replace Emenalo directly, with the Nigerian’s duties currently being shared between herself and scouting staff, including Neil Bath, the club’s academy director. However, the situation is a moving target and there’s nothing settled between Granovskaia, the board and Abramovich about the management structure long-term.
In the meantime, the onus is on her. Does Conte have Granovskaia in his sights? Or is this simply a very public plea to tie down a player regarded among the best in his position anywhere in the world?
The big positive to come from Conte’s warning is that this was the manager looking at things long-term. If he already had plans of walking away in the summer. Of returning to Italy and taking the national team job for a second time. Then why make the demand for Granovskaia to “face this issue”? Clearly, Conte has his sights set on sticking around – and he wants Courtois to be doing the same.
What Abramovich and those who complained earlier this season about Conte’s outspoken approach must realise is no matter Emenalo’s departure, the Italian isn’t going to pull back. He’s going to have his say. If things aren’t going as planned, he’ll turn the spotlight on those in the executive box.
There’s been a lot of drivel spoken over the past fortnight about managerial longevity and Abramovich’s sacking policy. Apparently, this is the way forward. Three years in, then show the manager – no matter who he is – the door.
But Conte isn’t just any old manager. This is a man who put the foundations in place for the greatest winning era in the history of Juventus. He has form. Previous. And this is what he has tried to get across to all of us – including Abramovich – when talking about renewing this squad.
Before the Courtois outburst, a fortnight earlier Conte revisited the state of his squad – and they’re comments that should be front of mind whenever he speaks out about things not going his way.
“We must be realistic now and understand that we are building, creating a base.”
And that – he hopes – should include his goalkeeper. For the Chelsea owner, this isn’t anything personal. Conte is simply demanding for the good of club, get this Courtois deal done.