By Tim Harrison
The love affair between Tony Conte and Chelsea’s blue army rolls on with fresh intensity after the manager’s impressive handling of the uncertainty over striker Diego Costa’s future.
Conte skilfully fielded questions over a supposed player strike, a rumoured training ground spat and the wider issue of Chinese courting of European footballing stars.
Whatever the truth, he was adamant that his way of doing things involved handling any issue in private, not in public.
No wonder Blues fans often keep their hypnotic chant of “Antonio, Antonio” going for five or 10 minutes at a stretch.
Notably at Leicester, where a potentially tricky fixture was navigated effortlessly, with Marcos Alonso – perceived by many to be the weakest link in Chelsea’s bow-shaped back five – not only netting a brace in the 3-0 win, but being a whisker away from the unlikeliest of hat-tricks.
In the end it was Pedro who headed the Blues’ third as Chelsea recovered from their White Hart Lane defeat to win at a canter, with 65% of the possession; no mean feat away from home to the champions.
Next up is Hull at the Bridge on Sunday afternoon with – once again – all eyes on Costa.
It’s a difficult situation. If any player is tapped up by a Chinese club with anything approaching a £30million a year pay package, they would surely be tempted.
But Conte is a remarkable manager, a fascinating mix of good cop and bad cop. At pitchside he is demonic, passionately playing each ball as if he’s participating in a lifesize video game.
Away from the turf, he’s so quietly spoken that everybody cranes forward to catch his softly muttered bon mots.
His pre-match and post-match whispers seem to gain added gravitas by being delivered at low volume, almost conspiratorially.
He’ll need to exercise all his undoubted man management skills to steer away through this rumpus. But if he succeeds, a path is clear to Chelsea’s continued march towards a finish within the Champions League places and – who knows – the Premier League trophy itself.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.