Antonio Conte feels the Premier League triumph he masterminded with Chelsea last season was a ‘miracle’ – just like Leicester City’s in 2015-16.
Conte’s compatriot Claudio Ranieri led relegation-tipped Leicester City from 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the season to the summit of English football, completing one of the most remarkable upset stories in sports history.
Chelsea, as they are now, were defending champions that season, but their form nosedived terribly, Jose Mourinho was sacked and they finished in 10th.
Conte currently finds his position under scrutiny, with Chelsea nine points shy of Premier League leaders Manchester City ahead of City’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
But the former Juventus and Italy boss suggested his feat in taking the Blues back to the title from their brief existence as also-rans does not receive due credit.
‘Don’t forget that in the last four or five years we lost a lot of important players for Chelsea – [Didier] Drogba, Petr Cech, [Frank] Lampard, [John] Terry, [Branislav] Ivanovic, [John Obi] Mikel, [Nemanja] Matic,’ Conte said, returning to a familiar theme of Chelsea’s squad depth presenting a challenge on their return to the Champions League – something seemingly borne out by a 3-0- loss at Roma in midweek.
‘I’m talking about players that wrote history in this club, because they played for many years and they played Champions League games – semi-finals, finals.
‘Now we are restarting to build something important, to try to put the club again to be able to face this type of situation.
‘If we think I do this [clicks fingers] and we are ready to fight, it’s not simple. Last season happened – a miracle.’
Asked to compare his own title win to that achieved by his friend Ranieri, who found himself out of a job by this February, Conte said: ‘I think Leicester did a great miracle because when usually you are used to fighting relegation [winning the league] is a miracle, a big miracle.
‘For Chelsea, who are used to winning the league in the past, also you have to understand when it is a good time to win the league or when it is a surprise.
‘If this is a surprise, it means you are doing a miracle. I think last season was a miracle for us.
‘Chelsea’s name sometimes covers the miracle, only because your name is Chelsea. When you finish 10th you have the opposite of the miracle.’
He added: ‘It was a miracle because we had the same players that the season before finished 10th.
‘Okay, our transfer market was good with [Michy] Batshuayi, [David] Luiz, [N’Golo] Kante and [Marcos] Alonso.
‘If I don’t remember badly, you [the media] were the first to say Chelsea is prepared to become worse than the previous season.
‘I remember the headlines. I have to say when I make mistakes, but also you have to do the same.’
Despite Conte’s contention that Chelsea are fighting for honours at home and abroad while in the midst of a rebuilding phase, he does not feel the need to ask Roman Abramovich and his board for more time should the champions hit a prolonged mid-season slump.
‘Honestly, I think I earned my time here with the win of last season. I earned my time,’ said the 48-year-old, who signed improved terms before the start of this season that did not extend the length of his contract beyond 2019.
‘I don’t like to ask for time. I like to tell the truth. My task is to work and to put all myself for this club.
‘Then, if it’s enough, okay. If it won’t be enough, okay. The same. I will continue to live.’
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