Antonio Conte says he has nothing to prove to anyone at Chelsea as he prepares for a first return to Stamford Bridge since his sacking in 2018. The manager goes back with Tottenham on Wednesday night for the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg and it is sure to be emotional, given the relationships he made during his two seasons in west London.
Conte won the Premier League in his first campaign, seeing off the challenge of Spurs – then managed by Mauricio Pochettino – and he followed it up with an FA Cup triumph in his second season, his team beating Manchester United in the final. It was not enough, however, to earn him a longer stay. Conte’s focus is on the cup game and managing a return of Covid cases to his squad.
After the large outbreak in December that led to Spurs being forced to postpone their Europa Conference League tie against Rennes and the league fixture at Brighton, Conte said the club were “checking a couple of situations about Covid” with regard to players, although he was “not sure 100% that they’re going to miss the game”.
Yet Conte did acknowledge the romantic side of the story that pits him against the club that gave him his first opportunity to work in England.
“I spent two seasons where I created a good relationship with players, staff, people who work at Chelsea,” Conte said. “We did a really good job and I think in my position I mustn’t prove anything to anyone. I’m a manager that has experience and continues to have experience and do important jobs at other teams. It’ll be a pleasure for me to come back to Stamford Bridge.”
Conte is acutely aware that Spurs have won nothing since 2008 but he also knows that Chelsea are at a different stage of development.
“At this moment, Chelsea is more ready than us to win,” he said. “They won the Champions League last season. We have a lot of space for improvement, to be a team with aspirations to win. To use the verb ‘to win’ is more simple than winning because to win you have to build something important, be solid, have an important squad. Then you’re ready to win. Otherwise you have to hope.”