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Friday 20 July 2018

I want Conte to win Cup and kick his heels on Chelsea exit

Final destiny: Paul Pogba will do battle with his French team-mate N’Golo Kante in tomorrow’s FA Cup final at Wembley
Final destiny: Paul Pogba will do battle with his French team-mate N’Golo Kante in tomorrow’s FA Cup final at Wembley

It's not easy to pick a team to support in this year's FA Cup final. As a neutral, I can't root for Jose Mourinho and I find it even harder to wish Chelsea well given what they've done to Antonio Conte over the last twelve months.

In the end, I have to side with Conte because of the way he has held himself together in the face of almost impossible conditions and still brought his team to a Wembley final.

I want Conte to win so that he can kick his heels as he walks out the door at Stamford Bridge in a few weeks and point to the two biggest trophies in English football and know that he delivered both to an employer who would not allow him to do his job.

Chelsea will have to sack him so he will walk away with enough money to end all financial worries if he hasn't already banked enough from his career as a player and manager.

Break

Best of enemies: (l-r) Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte have enjoyed a fractuous relationship as they prepare to face each other again at Wembley tomorrow
Best of enemies: (l-r) Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte have enjoyed a fractuous relationship as they prepare to face each other again at Wembley tomorrow

He can kick back and wait for offers to come if they haven't arrived already or take a break the same as Pep Guardiola did. It's a far cry now from when managers ended up on the scrap heap and penniless.

Unfortunately for Conte, however, I don't think Chelsea will win and the principle reason for that is the fact that his players know he won't be around next season.

I can't stress enough how important that will be in a Wembley final when the going gets tough and players have to fight through the fatigue, heat and the pressure of such a big occasion.

Even good lads like N'Golo Kante will sub-consciously slip off top form when the man watching on the touchline is living on borrowed time and I think that is what we have seen with Chelsea, particularly in the second half of the season.

No matter how good you are, no matter how committed and honest, standards will drop in a squad playing for a manager whose authority has been undermined.

Trust me, the players will not go out tomorrow to give their all for Conte because they love him. They might not even like him and there's a good chance some are afraid of him.

When things are going well, all these things feed into a team's morale and right now, Chelsea are a pale shadow of the united group which won the Premier League under Conte last year.

Surgery

I'm not suggesting that Manchester United are the happiest campers in the Premier League for one second but the players at Old Trafford know that, unless there is a major change, Mourinho will be their boss next season.

His presence on the touchline is a goad at all times but in a final and when he has made it clear that he will perform some major surgery on his squad this summer, everyone who pulls on a red shirt on the day will have plenty of motivation to perform.

It's important for Mourinho too because he can claim a reasonably successful season if he banks the FA Cup to put alongside the runners-up spot in the Premier League.

In reality, Manchester United are miles behind Guardiola's City and Mourinho has a lot of work to do to resolve his Paul Pogba problem, just one of many adjustments he must make if he is to chase down the noisy neighbours.

But in a one-off game against a team diminished by circumstances and with a lame duck manager, I think Mourinho's team will have enough about them to offer him the chance of another grandstanding photo opportunity.

As I said, it's not a final which provides the prospect of a happy outcome for neutrals.

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