Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte gestures during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge in London on May 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS /
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte dismissed persistent rumours linking him with a move to Inter Milan as his side prepared for a match at West Bromwich Albion on Friday that could give the Blues the Premier League title.
Victory at The Hawthorns will see Chelsea crowned champions in former Italy manager Conte’s first season in charge of the London club and leave them halfway to a domestic ‘Double’ ahead of their FA Cup final against capital rivals Arsenal.
Chelsea are seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, another London club, and need just three points from their final three league games this season to be sure of lifting the Premier League trophy.
Yet despite Conte’s excellent start at Stamford Bridge, there has been continued speculation he could return to his native Italy.
He has been linked with a move to Inter ever since the Italian giants sacked Stefano Pioli earlier this season.
“I have two years (remaining under) contract with Chelsea,” Conte said Thursday. “It’s logical when you start the work in a new club the will is to continue to work, to try to improve your work in many years. For sure, this is my will.
“In this moment for me or for my players, the most important thing is to be focused on the moment.”
He added: “Now the most important thing is to reach our target. The most important thing is to write the history of the club. It’s important now, don’t lose the concentration, be focused.
“My players are totally focused on the moment. We mustn’t forget that we must take three points to reach this target.”
Chelsea announced they had appointed Conte on a three-year contract in April 2016 and he took up his post at Stamford Bridge in July after managing Italy at Euro 2016.
The 47-year-old Conte is now on the verge of winning his fourth domestic title after capturing three successive Serie A crowns with Juventus before moving on to the Italy job.
He is widely credited with reviving Chelsea after the then champions suffered a dramatic slump in form during the 2015/16 that led the Blues, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, to sack Jose Mourinho, now the manager of Manchester United.
Chelsea eventually recovered to finish tenth as 5,000/1 pre-season outsiders Leicester City completed a remarkable title triumph.
– ‘Problems’ –
“This could be another big, big step for me,” Conte said. “In my career I enjoy to have this type of big challenge. I need to have this type of situation where you arrive and you have to work a lot and also to transform the situation in the right way.
“At the start of the season it wasn’t easy. We faced a lot of problems and we had to solve a lot of problems.
“When you finish 10th in the league it means that the problem is not only one, but there are a lot of problems. The problem is not only one person.
“I have to say thanks to my players because it’s not easy to adapt to a new method, new philosophy and also to work very hard, to change totally your work, if you compare the work this season to the past.”
Chelsea beat Middlesbrough on Monday to move seven points clear after Tottenham suffered a major slip-up in losing to West Ham on Friday.
Even if West Brom deny Chelsea victory on Friday, it will likely merely delay the inevitable given the Blues remaining league games are at home to mid-table Watford on Monday and against relegated Sunderland on May 21.
“It’s not important where you win, it’s important to win,” said Conte. “Then you will have the time to celebrate the win where you want.
“Tomorrow’s game is the most important game for us. It’s a final.
“I like to repeat: this is a good season. We want to become a great season.”