It hasn’t been a jolly ride for Chelsea FC on their way to the top of English Premier League’s table thanks to Antonio Conte, whose dedication, hardwork and managerial acumen made it possible.
Gianfranco Zola, a former Chelsea players, says Conte has “winning” in his blood after upstaging rivals with six straight wins.
“It’s an important game but it’s not going to be decisive. The margins are very narrow,” the former Juventus player said of the clash between Manchester City and Chelsea.
“Three weeks ago, everyone was sure Manchester City were going to win the league. Then it was Tottenham, then Arsenal and now it’s Chelsea.
“People wrote Chelsea off as possible title winners after defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal. They deserve to be top now and they’re playing well.
“But my old club, along with City and Liverpool, have more chance than the others because they look solid enough to be there until the end.
“Those three teams not only have the ability to win games but also the consistency, balance and strength to maintain the rhythm.”
With just one point above Liverpool on the EPL table, Zola says he knew Conte would turn things around for the Blues.
“I had no doubt Antonio was going to do a good job for Chelsea.
“If you have that kind of passion, it is like adding salt to the meal — and that makes it a little bit tastier. It is the same for Antonio and Chelsea,” the 50-year-old said.
Zola was present during William Hill’s official unveiling of the club’s new shop. The former Italian national team player told reporters in an interview, according to The Sun: “I know Antonio’s value. Over the years, I’ve seen how well he works. The only question I had was if his methods were going to stick with the players quickly because Antonio is quite intense.
“But everyone at Chelsea has bought into it. If the players can feel that passion, then they are more fired up.
“There is no doubt Antonio is a winner. Winning three back-to-back Italian titles with Juventus is an incredible feat.
“Wherever he goes, he does a good job. The competition in the Premier League now is tougher than what he had in Italy.
“But he’s up to the challenge. Winning is in his blood. He’s in great shape and I really hope they can continue.”
Zola went further with revelations on his relationship with the Chelsea coach. He said both of them have gone out for dinner a few times in London.
After retirement from football, Zola became a manager, most recently at Al-Arabi. He spent about ten years playing soccer in Italy (Napoli) alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, where they won a Serie A title.
Later at Parma, Zola also won the Italian Supercup and the UEFA Cup before moving to Chelsea, where he earned the Football Writers’ Player of the Year (1996-97).
In his words, the ex-Chelsea star said: “He was very similar as a player. Yes, very intense, very hardworking, focused, dedicated to football. You see the same characteristics as a boss. We are Latins, so we participate a lot with the voice and gestures.
“And remember, we were in a dressing room with a lot of big characters — Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, so there was a lot of people to pick things up from.
“But he is actually completely opposite off the pitch. He’s very settled and reasonable.
“Sometimes you see people in the game who have a certain personality and you expect to see the same thing in normal life — that’s not the case with Antonio.
“We have a wonderful relationship. We played together in the national team, so we kept contact.
“I’ve showed him a couple of restaurants for dinner but it looks like he already knows where to go!,” Zola jokingly added.
“He likes Italian food and is a ‘good fork’ as we say in Italy when somebody appreciates their food.
“I don’t know what his favourite food is but last time we went out for a meal, we ate fish in Chelsea. And we had some Italian wine, for sure.”
Image: Antonio Conte