Chelsea are Premier League champions: How did Antonio Conte do it?
Fostering the family atmosphere
Italy’s over-achievement at Euro 2016 was compelling evidence of how close bonds within a camp can produce results beyond expectation.
It is something Conte has brought to Chelsea and placed at the heart of his approach and success.
Conte organised a pre-season barbecue for players, staff and families at Cobham. Marquees were erected and a five-a-side pitch set out for the children. It set the tone for the season, with striker Diego Costa spoiling his villainous public image by happily joining in with the youngsters for 40 minutes, during which he was even taken out by a tackle.
When pre-season got under way in Austria and LA, Chelsea’s support staff were surprised to be singled out for warm handshakes and words every day from a manager intent on providing unity at a club that has had its share of instability, often actually generating renewed success, over the years.
At the staff Christmas party, the tradition is for the manager to record a message to be played at the event.
Conte duly obliged, but then asked if he could also attend the event for about 500 people at the Under The Bridge music venue at Stamford Bridge, staying for more than two hours, spending time mingling with guests and happily posing for pictures and selfies.
He spent a similar amount of time at a trampoline party organised for players’ children around the festive period – while staff at Cobham also saw evidence of his personal touch last Christmas.
Conte ensured staff received wine and Prosecco, with every bottle personally addressed to the individual as thanks, and accompanied by a card with the words of Hannibal as he prepared to cross the Alps by elephant: “We shall either find a way or make one.”
Conte’s seasonal goodwill even extended to the media, with a group invited to a local pub and bought drinks after a pre-match news conference in the build-up to the Boxing Day game with Bournemouth.
The irony is the manager intent on developing the Chelsea “family” has had to cope for long spells without wife Elisabetta and nine-year-old daughter Vittoria, who have remained in Italy but will soon join him in London.
Every month, players and staff will go out together for a meal – but Chelsea’s players also know when to keep their distance.
Former Chelsea and Scotland winger Pat Nevin witnessed a moment that underlined how Conte, while always available to any player, is not to be trifled with.
He told BBC Sport: “The fun guys at the training ground, the daft ones, David Luiz and Diego Costa, are always having a laugh.
“Costa was sneaking up behind people and throwing big buckets of iced water over them. He was running up behind Antonio and he was going to do the ice bucket over the top and, even though you know Antonio is a good laugh and he was having a joke, he got all the way up then chickened out.
“The players kind of think you’re one of them but they’re not quite sure. As a manager you’ve nailed it then – and Conte has nailed it.”