Combative Conte would bring steely resolve to Chelsea

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 15, 2016 1:16 PM

By Neville Dalton

LONDON (Reuters) - Confirmation that Antonio Conte is to stand down as Italy coach after Euro 2016 appears to clear the way for the 46-year-old to take over the reins at Chelsea.

The former Juventus coach has been linked with the vacancy at Stamford Bridge for some time following the departure of Jose Mourinho midway through what has been a hugely disappointing season for the club.

Despite improvement under interim manager Guus Hiddink, Chelsea are still only 10th in the Premier League, 11 points behind Manchester City in the last Champions League qualifying place, and the chances of Conte starting life in London in Europe's top competition are remote.

Many believe Chelsea could be getting a manager in the mould of Mourinho, the self-styled "Special One".

At club level, Conte has been successful, saving Bari from relegation before clinching promotion with them the following season, and achieving similar results with Siena in 2012.

His highest-profile achievements came at Juventus, the club for whom he played the majority of his 367 matches in a playing career spanning almost 20 years.

He won the Italian league title in each of his three seasons in charge, racking up a Serie A record 102 points in the third of those, in 2013-14.

However, there were no European trophies to add to the impressive domestic haul.

SIMILARLY EFFECTIVE

Conte, a combative midfielder for Juventus, with whom he won five Serie A titles and the Champions League, has proved similarly effective as coach.

The way Juventus won their trophies also had shades of Mourinho about it.

Defensively sound, industrious and with a strong team ethic, his sides were not always as successful at the other end of the pitch.

But while showing a preference for 3-5-2 or 5-3-2, with notable use of wing-backs, Conte also demonstrated a tactical flexibility.

"It's not that his football is unattractive but he certainly doesn't seem like someone who places aesthetics above results," Italian soccer journalist Gabriele Marcotti wrote following Conte's appointment as Italy boss in 2014.

Under Conte, Italy qualified comfortably for this year's European Championship, unbeaten in winning their group but without ever looking world-beaters, scoring 16 times in their 10 matches.

With Chelsea over-reliant on the mercurial Diego Costa for goals, a proven scorer should be high up on Conte's list of priority signings.

The club have been linked with Riyad Mahrez, a key player in Leicester City's shock rise to the top of the Premier League.

But Conte may prefer to opt for familiarity and Arturo Vidal, currently at Bayern Munich and the scorer of 18 goals during Juve's record-breaking title hat-trick season, could be a candidate for a move to London.

Conte will also need to look at Chelsea's defense, where John Terry is nearing the end of his career and Gary Cahill, an England regular, has endured a frustrating season, often on the bench.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)