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Conte vs Chelsea front office: Why he's set up to win critical battle

COMMENT: First the good news - and geez, don't Chelsea need some? The only way they'll get rid of Antonio Conte is by sacking him.

Conte is staying - and long-term. With his daughter now attending local school, there's no chance of the Italian and wife Elisabetta disrupting the family again after only just relocating to Cobham.

The message went out a fortnight ago. To those agents closest to the Chelsea manager. Federico Pastorello et al. 'Let your clients know, I'll be here next season'. All that speculation about succeeding Giampiero Ventura as Italy coach. Or replacing Vincenzo Montella at AC Milan. It was just that, speculation. Conte has the bit between his teeth. He wants to stay. His family are now settling in. And away from Cobham's training pitches he's happy. The lifestyle suits him.

Inside the club, however, it's a different story. Conte is still pushing for more control. He knows his squad is short. He warned Roman Abramovich, the Blues owner, as much in a rare face-to-face in preseason. Those assurances of better communication and greater weight given to his transfer recommendations now, Conte believes, are fading.

But he's not disheartened. Just frustrated. He's held up his end of the bargain. Abramovich can have no complaints. He's working with what he's been granted. Conte, going over the heads of Michael Emenalo and Marina Granovskaia, made it clear to the Russian the squad was short. Those comments about it "being difficult to defend" the Premier League title were practically word-for-word what the Italian had relayed to Abramovich.

But the pushback has been swift. Abramovich argues with Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Davide Zappacosta, all Conte recommendations, he's held up their end of the deal. Danny Drinkwater was added as a direct replacement for Nemanja Matic - that he hasn't made it onto the pitch yet is no-one's fault.

But there is the Fernando Llorente fiasco, which is still burning up Conte. The Spaniard was a personal request. Morata (or Romelu Lukaku) was to replace Diego Costa, with Llorente to act as cover. Just as he had planned in January when he pushed hard to prise the centre-forward away from Swansea City. Six months later, nothing had changed. The role was to be the same, only he'd support Morata rather than Costa. Talks, via third parties, had already been held between manager and player. Llorente was happy. Conte was satisfied. And then Chelsea fumbled it...

It's old news now, but Conte does see the paltry £5m bid tabled by Chelsea as a personal slight. Emenalo and Granovskaia knew he wanted Llorente. They knew he'd laid all the foundations for a deal himself. But between them, they didn't see the point with Michy Batshuayi already on the books. From Conte's perspective, the £5m offer was a throwaway gesture. Almost sabotage. As mentioned before, all that goodwill which had come from clear-the-air talks at the beginning of preseason had been flushed away.

But Conte, today, is calm. Yeah, he's angry after the manner of their defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday, but he also knows Abramovich will soon realise something has to give. Jose Mourinho experienced the same just two years ago. But where the now Manchester United manager went to war with the front office - he and Emenalo remain not on speaking terms - Conte is simply getting on with it.

Instead of taking the fight to those inside the club, he's leaving not so subtle hints of what he's having to face down. Last season, we'd have to tap our friends in Italy for what Conte was really thinking about how the club was run. But today, it's all on our front doorstep. The Llorente story strategically placed during a quiet international week for maximum exposure.

The fans have seen it all before. As has Abramovich. But now they can piece it together. And strengthening Conte's hand was his first media conference after the international break.

Yes, he was pushed about the Italy rumours, but that was it. It was the manager who volunteered the information about his daughter "going to school in Cobham". It was almost a prepared statement, with "I want to clarify" and "my family stays here with me".

For the fans and Abramovich, the message is clear: Conte is staying.

And for those who claim he's stepping outside his lane, the Llorente story was a shot across the bows. Conte's no Mourinho. He's on no self-destruct mission. If Abramovich can finally wise up, it won't be the Italian backing down.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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