By Oma Akatugba (@omaakatugba)
“A week is a long time in politics” is a quote made famous by late British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to capture the fast-paced nature of events in the political arena where alliances can be formed or dissolved within minutes. But as Antonio Conte is finding out at Chelsea, the same is the case in football.
At this point last season, he had masterminded a resurgence that surprised many as his team emerged from the abyss of losing three-nil at the Emirates to Arsenal on match day six, to going eight points clear at the top of the table with a two-nil win over Hull City on match day 22.
As the season progressed, the gap grew wider before it narrowed but ultimately, Conte got the job done. With an unfamiliar 3-5-2 tactics, which would regain relevance as other managers simulated, he took a team that finished tenth the previous season to the top of the table with seven points to spare. Plaudits followed, he was lionized by the fans, so much so that they didn’t think twice before pissing on the legacy of Jose Mourinho over a slight. Conte’s power grew so big; he reportedly fired the club’s title-winning striker with a text message.
But all of that seem like a distant past now. After Chelsea’s league draw against Leicester City – similar to the previous three games across competitions – the players were booed off the pitch by visibly angry fans.
Like Guardiola’s front hair, title talks have disappeared completely at the club as they are barely third, 15 points behind leaders Manchester City and three points ahead of Liverpool who lurk in fourth position. They needed a frantic shoot-out before progressing in the FA Cup against lowly Norwich, and chances of progress in the UCL look bleak following a draw with high-flying Barcelona.
While the evident struggle for form and lack of result is daunting enough to cause despair, fans are even more disillusioned with the manager’s lack of a coherent plan to steady the ship.
An instance is the merry go-round the club is doing in the transfer window. Whereas other clubs are hitting targets and bringing in high-profile players for immediate upgrade in personnel and consequently performance, Chelsea’s pursuit of a striker has taken a funny twist with links to Peter Crouch, Andy Caroll and every other tall player on the streets of London.
Although it could be argued that the problems of the club are exaggerated, and that Antonio Conte is only a victim of his own success given the state of the club when he took charge and how much changes he has effected. But even he understands that in the result business that is modern-day football where pressure is at the highest and there is an endless demand for conquest, you are as good as your last game.
If antecedence is anything to go by, especially with the treatment of Jose Mourinho who remains the club’s most successful manager, then Conte should not sleep with both eyes closed. He has to turn the tide and lift the mood
at the Stamford Bridge.
A win against Arsenal in the League cup will go a long way in doing that, but should he suffer a defeat and drop out of another competition, a press release might be due from the blue side of London.
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