It’s a sign of the times we live in that a world-class manager is on the verge of getting sacked despite having won a league title in his debut season less than 10 months ago.
As wages and transfer fees have expanded ten-fold, club owners demand immediate results and there can be no denying that Antonio Conte is skating on thin ice at Chelsea after a series of disastrous results.
In the wake of such damaging defeats, it’s not been a surprise to see reports of Conte’s impending exit swirl around and not even the most idealistic Blues fan would deny that the current incumbent’s time is almost up.
When the Special One was unceremoniously sacked, not once but twice, then the Italian is not sacrosanct is he?
How did it come to this, after a glorious romp to the title last season, however?
We take a look at why Conte struck out below:
Title defence up in smoke in September
First things first.
Chelsea have been appalling this season in the Premier League.
Not since their last title defence season (2014-15) have they been this bad and we all know what happened to the manager then.
Forget comparisons to their title-winning 2016-17 season, the Blues are on the verge of being knocked out of the top-four by Tottenham and truth be told, any aspirations of lifting a second consecutive league triumph were over well before the turn of the year.
After a chaotic opening-day loss to Burnley at home, the West Londoners never truly recovered and when they faced Manchester City at the Bridge on the last day of September, they were hoping against hope that a miracle would be present itself, but alas, no divine intervention was forthcoming.
The Sky Blues went on to dominate the hosts in an unforeseen manner, winning 1-0 on the night to confirm their title credentials and leave Conte wondering what had gone wrong.
Of course, their summer window in which they lost battle-hardened players like Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa and replaced them with the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko had hamstrung them, but capitulating within the first two months of the season is not on.
As City went on a record-breaking run, the Blues attempted to match the Citizens but a 0-3 in Europe at the hands of Roma (a team currently fifth in the Serie A) brought the morale to a new low and the gap between themselves and the league leaders continued to widen.
Conte refused to admit defeat publicly, but even he knew that a battle to make the top-four was now their immediate concern.
Not what a certain oligarch had in mind when he hired the Italian and the first reason to get his trigger finger itchy.
Humiliating defeats against ‘smaller teams’ have dented aura
The aforementioned loss to Burnley set the tone, for gone was the imperious defence that had gone weeks without conceding.
City were deserved victors in September but losing to a direct rival is understandable. Losing to a relegation-threatened side such as West Ham (in December) is not.
And much has been made of the Blues’ back-to-back losses at the hands of Bournemouth and Watford, but the margin of those defeats warrants concern.
The Cherries were on a good run when they visited Stamford Bridge but not even their most ardent supporter could have predicted a 3-0 scoreline that enfolded last week.
Alarm bells had begun to ring around West London but the worst was yet to come on Monday.
After Eden Hazard had equalised proceedings with a wondrous goal in the 82nd minute, the Blues seemed to have ensured a share of the spoils but would collapse to concede three goals in the final ten minutes to leave Vicarage Road on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline.
Up next on the calendar is West Bromwich Albion and then a FA Cup fifth round clash with Hull City before entering the make-or-break period in which the Blues take on the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Barcelona again back-to-back.
With their hopes of the league effectively over, the cups remain their best chances of winning any silverware and while Hull should be packed off without much fuss, the fact that they face a resurgent Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League doesn’t bode well for the West Londoners.
Exiting the elite continental competition before the quarter-final stage would mean strike two in Roman Abramovich’s books, but there’s more to come…
Repeated public outbursts against club board on transfer policy
Antonio Conte’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2016 heralded a new era for Chelsea and after a rocky start, the Blues stormed their way to the title and very nearly competed a double.
Yet, the Italian was miffed for he was not afforded the designation of manager after his momentous triumph in his debut season and remained a head coach.
Not much of a difference in terms of footballing decisions, except a manager has a say in the transfer policy.
And in case it wasn’t obvious, the Italian has made public his displeasure over the club’s somewhat questionable signings, repeatedly.
A dangerous line to tread when your team is doing well, but considering the Blues’ form at the moment, perhaps not the best way to go about it.
Antonio Rudiger, Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta, Willy Caballero arrived in the summer while the likes of Emerson Palmieri, Olivier Giroud and Rossy Barkley bolstered the squad in January.
From the aforementioned players, neither has truly set Stamford Bridge alight and one wonders how many the Italian gave the thumbs-up for.
Questions over his future have become more of rule rather than the exception at pre and post-match press conferences and the fact that Conte has stopped short of daring the board to sack him, says it all.
The 48-year-old is a world-class manager, of that there is no doubt, but that’s strike three in the eyes of the decision makers at Stamford Bridge.
Former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique waiting in the wings?
Depending on how many articles you read, Luis Enrique is either contemplating a move to West London or has told them to wait until the summer before making any announcement public.
So, is the former Barcelona and Roma manager truly in talks to take the Stamford Bridge hot seat?
It certainly seems that way and reports are filtering in of the 47-year-old having agreed to a contract that will place him on the hot seat till 2020.
Whether or not Enrique will be an upgrade on Conte remains to be seen but nobody can doubt the Spaniard’s qualities as a manager.
Managing Barcelona is a rare honour but Enrique elevated his status by multiple rungs as La Blaugrana clinched a treble in his debut season.
A league and cup double followed in the next campaign and while his final season brought them ‘only’ the Copa del Rey, Enrique departed the Nou Camp after three trophy-laden years with his head held high.
Not since the Pep Guardiola days had the Catalans seen such dominance and the fact that the players were visibly upset at his egress told you how
Enrique’s tenure with Roma is a warning, however, that he’s not been a success wherever he has gone but the fact that two former Barcelona managers (with Pep at Manchester City) will be battling it out with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho for the Premier League title makes for arresting viewing, if nothing else.
Currently available, Enrique is unlikely to take charge immediately and in the even Conte is sacked mid-season, a caretaker-manager will probably be appointed while the Spaniard arrives in the summer.