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Conte hired to revitalize Chelsea while facing fixing case

/ 01:51 PM April 05, 2016
Antonio Conte

Chelsea announced that the 46-year-old Antonio Conte has signed a three-year contract to become head coach of the London club. AP

LONDON — Chelsea has turned to another manager renowned for his abrasive temperament as Jose Mourinho’s successor.

Having seen Antonio Conte revitalize Italy’s national team in the last two years, Chelsea is hoping the three-time, Serie A-winning coach can rouse the London club from its slumber.

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Roman Abramovich made Conte his 10th permanent managerial appointment in 13 years as Chelsea owner on Monday (Tuesday Manila time), handing out a three-year contract despite the former Juventus player and coach facing sports fraud charges from a match-fixing scandal in Italy. There is a preliminary hearing in the case in Cremona on Tuesday although Conte is not required to attend.

The 46-year-old Conte does not officially take charge of Chelsea until Italy’s European Championship campaign is over. With the final in France not until July 10, Conte could have barely a month to prepare Chelsea for the new Premier League season, which kicks off Aug. 13.

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“I will continue to focus on my job with the Italian national team and will reserve speaking about Chelsea again until after the Euros,” Conte said.

Conte will have to make an instant impact at Chelsea to prevent a repeat of this sorry season, which saw the reigning Premier League champions slide near the relegation zone before Mourinho was fired in December.

Guus Hiddink has steadied Chelsea during a second spell as stop-gap manager while keeping the seat warm for Conte. Despite Chelsea remaining unbeaten in the league under the Dutchman, the team is 10th and there will almost certainly be no European football in Conte’s first season at Stamford Bridge.

Returning the 2012 European champions to the Champions League through a top-four domestic finish will be Conte’s priority.

“Antonio Conte has a record of consistent success in his career as a manager and as a player,” Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said. “We look forward to welcoming him to Stamford Bridge and are confident he will find all he needs to maintain that high standard of achievement.”

But Conte’s reputation is on the line in the match-fixing case, where he is accused of sports fraud in 2010-11 when he was Siena manager. The match under investigation involving him is Siena’s 1-0 win at Albinoleffe in May 2011. Siena’s 2-2 draw at Novara, also in May 2011, was dropped from the inquiry.

Conte, who has denied wrongdoing, served a four-month sports ban during the 2012-13 season — when he was at Juventus — for failing to report a fixing scandal while at Siena.

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Cremona prosecutor Roberto Di Martino told The Associated Press on Monday that he hopes Conte is sentenced for “a few months” by mid-May. But it is rare in Italy for anybody to go to jail after receiving a sentence of less than two years.

Asked if it was prudent of Chelsea to hire a coach facing a criminal trial, Di Martino said: “That’s the club’s problem.”

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia trumpeted the appointment of “one of the most highly regarded managers in world football.”

The disciplinarian is a proven champion at home, having won the Serie A title in each of his three seasons as Juventus coach before leaving to take the Italy job in 2014.

“You’ll have to spit blood right to the very end of the final match of the season,” Conte told his Juve players as they achieved the rare feat of going unbeaten in the league in his first season.

Conte has also shown he can transform the fortunes of struggling teams, steering Siena to an immediate return to the top division after relegation in 2010 following spells in charge of Arezzo, Bari — where he won the Serie B title — and Atalanta.

As a midfielder for Juventus, Conte won every major honor, including five Serie A titles and the Champions League. With Italy, he played in the finals of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 but was a runner-up on both occasions.

He has shown the same steely determination he exhibited as a player in his coaching and demanded the same commitment from his players.

He resigned from Juventus in 2014 to take on the challenge of transforming an Italian national side that had just crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage.

“I like tough challenges,” Conte said at the time. “I’m bringing my mentality here. I live for winning. The difference between victory and defeat is for me the same as between life and death.”

Conte will need his new Chelsea players to demonstrate the same fighting spirit to turn the five-time English champions into a force again.

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