Monday, June 27, 2022

Clean-living Conte keen for Wembley cigar

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Chelsea coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / Mark Ralston

Health-conscious Chelsea manager Antonio Conte plans to indulge himself with some champagne and a cigar if his side succeed in overcoming Arsenal in Saturday’s FA Cup final.

Conte, 47, does not smoke, generally steers clear of champagne and even eschews carbohydrates, but he will make exceptions if his team manage to complete a Premier League and FA Cup Double.

“We have to finish this great season and make it a fantastic season. There’s only one way to do that,” he told reporters at Stamford Bridge on Friday.

“To try to win tomorrow and to celebrate. To drink a bit of champagne. I don’t smoke, but tomorrow I’m hoping to smoke a cigar if we win. I’m ready to do this!”

The Wembley encounter is a repeat of the late-September fixture that proved to be the turning point in Chelsea’s season, with Conte switching to a back three after his side crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea finished the league season seven points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and 18 points above Arsenal — an outcome Conte admits was practically unthinkable at the time.

“It was very difficult to think about celebrating winning the league after the Arsenal defeat, to think we’d arrive at the end of the season and be celebrating winning the league,” he said.

“Honestly, that felt very difficult. Not impossible, but in that period we had a lot of big problems to solve. To find the right solution quickly is not easy.

“You must be very good, very prepared, but also lucky in these circumstances.

“For that reason, I was lucky to have a group of players who put themselves in Chelsea and my ideas of football and we put ourselves in a position where we could secure a fantastic title and celebrate.

“At the start of the season, if you’d said we could qualify for the Champions League, I’d have signed for that. Then I found great players and we were able to change our season.”

– Costa del Sol –

Despite Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich subsequently spending three days at the club’s training ground, Conte says he never felt under threat.

“He came for three days to watch our training sessions, to watch the video analysis, to stay with us. He supported me,” said the Italian.

“He never showed me he was angry. I think the club always saw my job, during pre-season and in that period, and trusted in my job. I never thought the club was thinking about sacking me.”

The showpiece showdown with Arsenal could prove to be Diego Costa’s last game with Chelsea, amid reports he is seeking a move away from Stamford Bridge.

The Brazil-born Spain striker has admitted he has struggled to adapt to the British climate, but Conte hopes forecasts of scorching temperatures at Wembley will help inspire both Costa and his team-mates to great things.

“Tomorrow we will have fantastic sun. For this reason, I hope to see a great game and all my players trying to win for us,” Conte said.

“When we finish the season, then it’ll be the right moment to speak about the future of my players.”


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