Antonio Conte: Right manager at the wrong time for Chelsea?
For someone with a constellation of trophies won in teams that were underperforming before his arrival, you may think that this writer may have a vendetta against Antonio Conte. But far from it, I too think the Italian is a tactical genius who was needed at Chelsea - however, his arrival may have come at the wrong time for the club, for the younger players trying to make their way into the main team anyway.
The next two years are going to be crucial for the Chelsea Academy. For the first time, the players coughed out of the Academy are showing that they are good enough to be given a shot at the senior team.
Recent call-ups to the National team for Tammy Abraham and Loftus Cheek indicate that the duo needs just a little shove and man management to turn them into players capable of turning out for this Chelsea side. Loftus-Cheek has been bullying Premier League defenders and midfielders alike being Crystal Palace's liveliest player and main creative hub. Tammy, despite playing in a Swansea side that has seen goals hard to come by has been involved in five goals (4 in EPL, 1 in the FA Cup) from 22 starts. The entire Swansea team has just 11 goals in the Premier League this season.
In Chelsea's recent history, only Ancelotti and Villas-Boas can claim to have genuinely given the youth a chance. The likes of Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, and Fabio Borini were getting Premier League minutes. During the 2010 Cup Of Nations, Drogba and Kalou left to represent Ivory Coast and instead of choosing the easy way out and drafting Anelka from his usual left-hand side attacker in his 4-3-3, Ancelotti drafted Daniel Sturridge to the centre-forward position which saw the young strikers stock rise. Villas-Boas famously made Oriol Romeu the lynchpin of his midfield despite his tiny frame.
Compared to Ancelloti, Conte has almost no faith in the youth: do not let Pogba and Ethan Ampadu deceive you. No single players highlight's this more than the young Kennedy. Due to some questionable transfer activity, Chelsea had just the Brazilian as a back up to Marcos Alonso in the left wingback position. Safe to say, Kennedy is not as good as the Spaniard, but he is no liability either. He played left back more than once in the Mourinho regime, he is as hardworking as it gets but to date, has only seen action in the EFL cup against Nottingham Forest. Azpillicueta, Zappacosta, Moses and even Pedro have played more minutes in that position compared to Kennedy.
Conte's training regime consists of shadow playing the patterns rather than creativity. The players retrain the runs they are supposed to make over and over until they become instinct. It does not leave much room for mistakes and is not the friendliest environment for prospects. Others may point to Andreas Christensen as another youth product Conte had promoted to the first team, but truth is that the youngster had already earned his stripes at Borussia Monchengladbach and is no different from Rudiger who was purchased from Roma: young, raw, and with room for improvement. Had he not been a Chelsea player, be sure they would have looked to spend astronomically on him.
In conclusion, while Antonio Conte is no doubt one of the best in the business, the only language he believes in is winning and more often than not, he sticks to the seasoned, tried and tested players. It's interesting to see what the new season will bring for the players graduating from the Chelsea Academy. There are only so many times one will be comfortable with going out on loan before they decide to choose stability.