By Biola Kazeem (@biolakazeem)
It has become easy, in the quick revisionism that pervades the game of football, for managers to go from being a “brilliant visionary”, to a “spineless fraud”. And this season in the English Premier League, Antonio Conte, to his dismay, made the switch.
After winning the League to plaudits in his debut season with the rebirth of a neglected formation that worked so effectively, other managers had to replicate; he is now enmeshed in a fight to earn a spot in the UCL next season after falling in 5th position, five points behind Spurs in 4th.
On-the-field errors embodied by players like Bakayoko and poor off-field decisions such as Conte’s resolve to discard Diego Costa without much thought for a worthy replacement have haunted the club badly and largely defined its season.
However, at the tail end, things appear to be finally coming together. For a fan base used to consistent relative success following the arrival of Russian billionaire, Roman Abrahamovic, supporters of Chelsea have not spared managers perceived to be incapable of delivering desired results in the past. But as Chelsea fought hard to get past Leicester City in the FA Cup last weekend, they chanted the name of Antonio Conte in the stands; an indication that they haven’t completely lost faith in him, especially now that there appears to be some fight left in the Italian.
Leicester City, on the day, showed plenty of character and remnants of the spirited performance which saw them shock the world two years ago, but couldn’t overcome the superior hunger and desire to deliver in the Chelsea squad especially by hitherto fringe players such as Alvaro Morata, who has become the emblem of the club’s expensive misadventure in the transfer market. He finally showed signs of why he cost the club 60 million pounds and inspired hopes of a potentially bright, new start.
In the same vein, the tie against Barcelona in the Champions League showed the fans that Antonio Conte is still capable of organizing the club to hold its own against the best sides in the game. While the result may tell a different story, Chelsea gave the Spanish giants a run for their money in both legs of the encounter, creating a genuine fear that the English club could run away with a victory, especially in the
first leg where they were undone by an error from Christensen.
Whether or not the fans – and the club’s hierarchy – will maintain the faith rests firmly on how Antonio Conte prosecutes the last set of games involving the club. Despite the five point gap, the club still has a decent chance to overtake Spurs in the Premier League provided they get a win when they welcome the club to the Stamford Bridge on April fool’s day, intensifying the pressure on Mauricio Pochetinno’s men who have a reputation for caving in.
Conversely, a relatively easy draw against Southampton in the FA Cup semi-final seemingly guarantees Chelsea a place in the final where they will square up against either of Manchester United or Tottenham, and attempt to end what has been a tumultuous season with a trophy. Should Conte manage to achieve both, especially a cup triumph, he can be rest assured the fans will go hoarse from chanting his name.