Conte: Rumour mill much worse in Italy
Antonio Conte has laughed off "strange" speculation he was about to be sacked as Chelsea head coach, suggesting the rumours in Italy are worse.
Within minutes of Chelsea announcing a kit deal with Nike that is set to net the club £900million over the next 15 years, the focus on Thursday turned to Italian Conte.
A sustained and heavy mid-afternoon gamble was reported on the former Italy and Juventus boss becoming the next Premier League manager to be ousted from his position.
He went from being an outsider in the market to an odds-on favourite with some bookmakers, while others refused to take any more money.
"I take this with a smile," Conte said. "In Italy it's worse. In Italy it started Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, pushing the manager. I think in England it's better. In Italy the stories that managers can be sacked is normal.
"(But) this is very strange because they stopped the bets. I'm trying to find who put this money (on)."
The club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich recruited Conte on a three-year contract that began in July, following his Italy team's Euro 2016 quarter-final penalty shoot-out loss to Germany.
Chelsea have experienced a mixed start to Conte's first season in English football, suffering painful early defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.
With 13 points from seven games they stand seventh in the table and five points behind leaders Manchester City.
Two managers axed by Abramovich visit Stamford Bridge in the next two games: Claudio Ranieri with champions Leicester on Saturday and Jose Mourinho with Manchester United on October 23.
"Two great challenges for us," Conte added. "But in this moment I think we must think of ourselves and not of the other teams."
Chelsea have a full week to prepare for the United match as they are not involved in European competition.
Midfielder N'Golo Kante opted out of the Champions League with Leicester in moving to the Blues, who finished 10th last season.
Conte added: "I'm pleased N'Golo took the decision to come with us."
Kante is set to face the Foxes for the first time since leaving. He was an unused substitute in Chelsea's EFL Cup win at Leicester last month.
"N'Golo is an important player for the present and the future for Chelsea," Conte added.
"We did a great buy. He brought great will to fight and he's a humble man, a humble player. I like him. I like these type of players that put the team before himself.
"He's brave. He's not tall, but for me he has great qualities. It's good he puts his quality into the team."
Asked why Kante chose Chelsea, Conte added: "I don't know. You must ask him. I hope it was after my conversation (with him)."
Kante, who rarely put a foot wrong at Leicester, was left in the wake of Mesut Ozil as the German scored in Arsenal's 3-0 win last month.
Conte believes Kante was exposed in trying to help the team.
"I prefer he made a mistake through generosity than another type of mistake," the Italian said.
Chelsea won their most recent game, a 2-0 win at Hull, when Conte deployed a back three. John Terry is available again following an ankle injury and could come into the starting XI.