THERE is no arguing with Antonio Conte’s popularity among Chelsea’s supporters, even after a season in which the club, title winners under the Italian in his first season, struggled to match their opponents this time around.
This FA Cup victory on Saturday was forged from the resilient character shown by his team, an attitude Conte himself has had to display on several occasions this season as he bemoaned the perceived lack of support shown by the club to him in the transfer market.
One would think this victory, courtesy of Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty, strengthens his position. However, as we have seen before, the Chelsea hierarchy does not fear moving managers on — even those with the popularity factor that Conte has.
It was quite telling that the former Italy boss spent a significant amount of time in the post-match press conference answering questions about his future. One senses, despite it all, we could have seen the last of him at Stamford Bridge.
“I have a contract and I am committed to this club,” said Conte, after Chelsea clinched the FA Cup for an eighth occasion. “I think that, after two years, the club knows me very well and, if they want to continue to work with me, they know me.”
He added: “I can’t change. My way is always the same — hard work and to build a strong mentality with my players. I can’t change, I can’t change.
“I think my past speaks very clear as a player and as a manager. You can say what you want, but I am a serial winner and I showed this in a difficult moment for the club. In two seasons, I brought two trophies for the club.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois played a crucial role in the win, pulling off a number of key saves against a Manchester United side managed by former Blues boss Jose Mourinho.
Asked if Chelsea need a big summer to add players in order to challenge for the title, Courtois said: “Yeah, I think so. I think especially if you see how [Manchester] City and United are spending and working.
“I think, if we want to aim for the top, we should do the same — obviously within the limits of what’s possible as well.
“I think that the transfer market has gone pretty crazy. Nowadays you pay £80 million for a defender. I think that’s crazy figures.
“We’ll see what’s going on and I am sure the board will do what needs to be done.”
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