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Wembley revolt? Why Chelsea players spoke out against Abramovich sack culture

COMMENT: Forget the league hoodoo, what about the Cup? Louis van Gaal. Arsene Wenger. And now Antonio Conte? At least with the Premier League, the manager gets a couple of months before the axe falls.

Conte won't get that at Chelsea. He should. For the sake of the club and it's long-term future, Roman Abramovich should insist his manager, no matter the constant sniping, fulfill the final year of his contract. But he won't. The call is sure to be made this week. The players know. Conte knows. The Italian's post-match presser said it all...

The two biggest trophies in English football and Conte has delivered both to Abramovich in his two seasons in charge. Pep Guardiola at Manchester City hasn't done that. Nor has this season's trophyless Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. Conte, above every other manager in the local game, has given his supporters the most to sing about over the last two years. And the reward? Well, on paper, it's ridiculous. The sack. Just another hire and fire call from Abramovich, Chelsea's billionaire owner.

But the cracks are beginning to show. And it's not all coming from the outside. For in the aftermath of getting one over their old manager on Saturday, Chelsea's players let their guard slip.

On the Wembley pitch, amongst the hugs and high fives, the facade was shattered - if just for a few minutes. For a moment, anyone paying attention was granted insider's access to the real conversations dominating the Blues locker room this season.

Conte. Hazard. Yeah, they were both covered. But the players went further. Stability. Managerial stability. The sack culture of the club. It was also hung out dry. Amongst all the smiles and laughter, there was also a seriousness from some players. A genuine concern: This culture is killing us.

Going into the final, Ruud Gullit nailed it. Yes, we can pull apart Chelsea's transfer policy. Conte's management. Gary Cahill's form. Etc, etc. But the overarching factor which has held the club back this season has been the speculation. The sack rumours. The constant doubts about the manager's future. And why? Because of the history of this football club since Abramovich's takeover.

Gullit, a Blues player and manager, crystalised it perfectly last week: "The main problem at Chelsea is that the coach's future is always in doubt in the second year.

“Even if you win the title in the first year it is almost guaranteed you will be sacked the following season.

“I don't know what the reasons for this are — but I know it creates instability and I know it happens every time."

Bang! You won't get better than that. At least not from someone with the ties to Chelsea as Gullit boasts. Well, that's unless you're Thibaut Courtois...

Clutching his winner's medal, the goalkeeper went for broke. No need for interpretation here. The question was about Conte, but Courtois went further - and we all knew whom he was talking about.

"There needs to be a clear line from the club, either they continue or stop," said the Belgian. "You cannot have him one more year and you don't know if the next year he will go away or not because you need some clarity and then everyone knows what way the club is going forward."

Clarity for next season? Sure. But Courtois wasn't about to end it there. Something has to give. This constant second year sack talk is dragging on the players. They're fed-up. And the owner needs to listen.

Continued Courtois: "I think this season there were always rumours about everyone and it's not easy to then defend a title with criticism.

"I never read papers but you get questions by journalists after games and before games and eventually it turns around the group.

"We felt it inside Cobham where we train. There was always kind of a negative spirit sometimes and it's hard to sometimes raise above ourselves."

A "negative spirit". Even amongst the celebrations on the Wembley pitch, this culture was weighing on the players. Courtois wasn't alone. Cesar Azpilicueta said much the same. Even Olivier Giroud, less than five months in, had his say.

Yes, Conte has played his part. Going for more money last year, without extending the deal, kicked it all off. He's been surly, even disinterested, at times this season. A different man to the one who charmed us all a year ago.

So yes, there can be some give offered from his side of the table. But even if the gesture is made, it won't be enough. It's why Conte, with Cup under his arm, was so unyielding in the Wembley aftermath. He knows the decision is coming.

As do the players. Only this time, they're fed up. Frustrated. Tired of carrying this speculation every second season. And some, as we were given a glimpse on Saturday, have had enough.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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