According to knowledge Bible, Wikipedia, the term ‘Renaissance man’ is used for a very clever person who is good at many different things.
The ‘Renaissance’ was a period in European history from around the 14th to 16th century of great cultural change and achievement. It marked the transition from the dark ages of medieval times to a more modern and forward thinking Europe. The renaissance started in Italy and was characterised by great artists, writers and scientists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli, da Vinci and Galileo.
Extending the metaphor of Italian history further, the Country (or disparate warring principalities as it was in the 19th Century) underwent what they called the ‘Risorgimento’, literally a resurgence or revival, whereby the various Italian states formed in to one unified Kingdom.
The parallels are clear. Hire an Italian manager with the characteristics of a Renaissance man and Chelsea has gone through its very own ‘Risorgimento’!
If you think about Chelsea’s revival in form this season it is truly remarkable what Conte has achieved in such a short space of time.
Last season was a nadir after the perpetual highs since Roman Abramovich purchased the Club, and in truth we had become used to those highs well before that. Added to the poor results on the pitch there was a massive rift between the supporters, players, manager and club the like of which I find hard to recall.
The stench lingered on to the beginning of this season with many still mourning the loss of our ‘greatest’ ever manager and disbelieving that the form and attitude of many of the players could be turned round quickly, if at all. Early results did nothing to dispel this view and horrible defeats to rivals Liverpool and Arsenal seemed to validate that.
And then it changed…
The change may have seemed immediate, even in the second half of that Arsenal game when Conte changed to the 3:4:3 system which takes the credit for the revival in the team’s fortunes.
I think that what we have seen and are seeing is more evolution than revolution.
To his credit, where other managers may have come in determined to scorch earth what had gone before, ripping it up and starting again, Conte has taken a measured and more systemic approach to ‘fixing’ the busted flush that Chelsea appeared to become last season.
He gave the tried and tested players a chance. He stayed with the club’s beloved 4:2:3:1 system. He watched and he learnt…and then when the time was right – he acted.
But he has done so with humility and very little drama – perhaps after the open rebellion of last season he needed to get the players buy-in to enable him to implement his methods. Contrary to popular opinion it seems that Conte may have a light touch. Perhaps the fact that in his day he played at the highest level has resonated with players whose vulnerable egos need reassuring from someone who ‘understands’ them rather than simply kicking them when they are down.
The handling of the ‘JT issue’ seems particularly relevant here. Albeit denied a starting place through injury, there seems little doubt that with the success of the back three, superbly and skilfully martialled by David Luiz, JT would have found it difficult to get back in anyway, as he himself has admitted.
Interestingly there has been no hue and cry about this, no mobs carrying torches braying at the gates of Stamford Bridge. If JT is to be quietly phased out it is being done with no drama or concealed machination. If there is credit due for this, then I believe it should go to Antonio Conte.
Credit him too for the turn round in the results, the attractive football and most of all the hugely improved performances and attitude of the players.
It is all too obvious to point to the return to world class form of both Costa and Hazard in Chelsea’s resurgence and undoubtedly they remain the lynch-pin upon which any Chelsea success will be built.
What has surprised some (but not me) is the way David Luiz has slotted in so naturally, commandingly and with all the natural leadership qualities required of the role. He has quite simply been a revelation in his role as the centre of the back three. What I have always loved most about Luiz is that he is clearly a big player for the big matches – as evidenced by his performance in the Champions League final in 2012, his performance against us for PSG recently and his performance last week against City.
Big players turn up in the big matches when it counts and that’s what makes them great players – we have had many of those over the years such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. I would not be surprised if Luiz is spoken of in the same reverential tones in years to come.
But it is with players such as Pedro, Moses and Alonso that Conte’s work has been most impressive. I’ll be honest and admit that I was dubious as to whether Pedro had the physicality to succeed in the Premier League. How wrong I was. He has been superb in the last few weeks – keeping out last year’s ‘Player of the Season’ Willian in the process.
Most of us will agree that Messrs Moses and Alonso would not have been the first names on the team sheet at any stage this season. But in spite of their limitations, given a run in the team in vital roles and the complete confidence of the manager, they have blossomed. Who would leave them out now?
If this proves anything it is that teams win football matches, not individuals. The whole of this Conte inspired Chelsea is very much greater than the sum of its parts. He exudes vision, confidence in his decision making and above all else great management. It reminds me very much of England’s World Cup Winning team of 1966 led by the indefatigable Sir Alf Ramsey.
Ramsey was a self-assured man and picked the team he felt would do the job – even having the strength of purpose to leave out Jimmy Greaves, far and away England’s best striker. Not necessarily the best individual players, but as they proved, the best team.
Conte appears to be moulding Chelsea in to a team built along the same lines and judging by Gary Cahill’s talk of confidence in going out on the pitch believing they’ll not lose it seems to be gelling well.
Should any of us really seem so surprised?
Conte did exactly the same at Juventus where he turned around an ailing giant, implementing a new system with three at the back before going on to win 3 back to back Championships – going unbeaten for an entire season in the process.
Will our current winning run continue and can Conte repeat his extraordinary feats at Juventus? Well this is Chelsea isn’t it and as we all know, anything can and probably will happen! ‘Glorious unpredictability’ is always waiting around the corner.
Whatever happens over the course of the season, Antonio Conte should be lauded as a true ‘Renaissance man’ who has skilfully implemented a football ‘Risorgimento’ at Chelsea and by lifting us out of the dark ages of last season, that in itself is a remarkable achievement.
First published in cfcuk – Chelsea’s number one fanzine!