Chuck Martini knows the Premier League very well: The former Leicester City goalkeeper is now Head Coach at Muscat Football Academy, and while I had only expected to catch up with him for a half hour, our fondness for football saw that pow-wow stretch well beyond regulation time. “Antonio Conte has slammed the door on everything Jose Mourinho has achieved,” he told me, by way of introduction, and he wasn’t half-wrong.
“Jose is a man who makes everything about himself, and he always needs to show himself as bigger than the club. I think in the end, someone like him will end up becoming his own downfall. “Look at the state in which he left Chelsea last year,” recalled the former Morocco international, who travelled to the United States as part of his country’s World Cup squad in 1994.
“What Conte has done to get this group of players together is unbelievable, because he realises that he is there to get the best out of the players. “He’s brought Eden Hazard back to his best, he man managed Diego Costa really well, during a time of the season when he was acting a bit sulky, and he’s brought in N’Golo Kante to add some steel to this squad,” said Martini. “He also changed the formation a bit because he knows that’s what suits the players. Conte’s methods are a far cry of that of Mourinho’s but how different is it from what the current Manchester United man would’ve done?
“Last year, when Chelsea were going through that awful slump, what he should’ve done is admitted he’d made a few mistakes, but he’s the sort of person who loves to twist the knife into someone when they are hurting,” said Martini. “That’s why only the fans of the club he supports like him, and the moment things don’t go his way, he begins to throw his toys out of the pram and blames everyone around him,” he added. “To him, he is the greatest manager and everyone else is at fault. He’ll isolate himself from everyone around him, and that creates a very toxic atmosphere.” Chelsea may have a world-class team right now, but Martini doesn’t necessarily see them as favourites for next year’s title race.
“Chelsea were lucky that they didn’t have the Champions League this season, and if they do the double by winning the FA Cup, it will be a superb season for Antonio Conte,” admitted Martini. “Next season is going to be tougher, because the Champions League brings in more pressure and more matches, so balancing his team is going to be difficult. “This season, he didn’t rotate his team much and stuck to the same tried and tested group of players, but he will surely be forced to do that next season,” he added.
“It’ll be really interesting to see how this pans out. The intensity of the Premier League gets to some players and it’s really hard to keep up at that level.” And what of the rest of the chasing pack? “The way the Premier League is at the moment, the top six have too much going for them, in compared to the rest of the teams,” said Martini. “The likes of Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and now Tottenham have a spending power that the other clubs don’t have and it’s going to take a monumental effort for some other clubs – even Everton, who have done so well this season – to break into that club.”
“The Premier League now has the world’s best managers and that shows just how attractive it is,” he went on to say. “Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho all manage teams here, and Maurico Pochettino has done really well as well, so it’s going to be super competitive in the future, and there are no guarantees. Sometimes, finishing in the top four itself is an achievement if you look at the quality on offer. We all expected Pep Guardiola to challenge for the title this season but that hasn’t happened, so this is the sort of animal that can take even the best in the world by surprise.”
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