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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Conte's approach is working for Chelsea

Antonio Conte has handled the move from national to club management with ease.
Antonio Conte has handled the move from national to club management with ease.

Antonio Conte is growing on me. The more I see of him and Chelsea this season, the more I like his approach.

He has handled the changeover from being Italian national coach to Chelsea manager in a much more controlled and organised way than, for example, Louis van Gaal was able to achieve at Old Trafford.

The circumstances were similar but Conte had more time to absorb the fact that he would be back in club management after France than van Gaal had when he was managing Holland to the 2014 World Cup final.

One way or other, Conte seems to be making a much better fist of it than van Gaal did and the feature of Chelsea's recent good form for me is how well they are organised at the back.

I switched from Liverpool to Manchester United as my tip for the title a while back simply because I felt that in a wide open race during which big teams will beat each other, the manager with the best defence would be the one to back.

I genuinely thought that José Mourinho would be that manager but as I watch things unravelling at Old Trafford, I'm not so sure about that now.

Steady erosion

I don't doubt his coaching ability in this context but what I am seeing is a steady erosion of the ring of steel around him which told me he was, like all the great managers, a fanatic.

Nothing gets in the way for men like that, not even family.

But I see Mourinho isolated in a hotel in Manchester while his wife and kids stay in London and clearly have no intention of being camp followers.

I see family issues encroaching on football and if that's happening, his priorities have shifted.

As a human being, that is probably a good thing for him in the long run. The great managers in the past died in poverty because in many cases, they had nothing else in their lives apart from football and didn't have the emotional or financial means to move on.

Their obsession with the game to the exclusion of all else was necessary for them to be great but a terrible curse when the curtain fell and they retired.

It will be the same for Arsene Wenger, for Pep Guardiola, for Mourinho and indeed for a man like Conte, who shows all the hallmarks of a football addict.

Different managers handle that addiction better than others and judging by what I saw with Italy in France and now with Chelsea, it looks like Conte has a good balance. Like all good Italian managers, he is a man who requires discipline but I can also see an energy and imagination in him which will allow good players to play within his philosophy.

He is full of passion but has a cold, very Italian grasp of what is needed to make a good defence.

Even more fundamental than that is the fact that the players are playing for him. That is plain to see.

Just as it was plain to me that Ronald Koeman, another very promising manager who we all have our eye on, is encountering some resistance to his method at Goodison Park.

That might sound odd, given how well Everton have done and the general consensus that they have a decent squad and will be competitive this season.

Koeman is a hard man and I can't imagine you would win an argument with him easily, certainly not about the way a football team should be run.

I like that about him but I wonder if his blunt, no-nonsense approach is beginning to grate on some nerves around the Everton training ground.

They had a charging start to the season, which suggested that Koeman would supply the steel and consistency which Roberto Martinez only managed in patches.

But I watched them against West Ham on Sunday last and I was very disappointed with the first-half performance.

The players weren't at it, as we say, and that was both surprising and revealing. They recovered in the second-half but it was a worrying sign for me.

Koeman is ruthless, I have no doubt about that and he doesn't mess around, as James McCarthy and Ross Barkley have found out.

But sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes, the players push back.

Ask Mourinho. He could write a book about it.

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