05 Apr Conte is the man for Chopper
Chelsea’s record appearance holder Ron Harris believes Antonio Conte’s determination, drive and competitiveness can turn his former club back into winners.
This time last year the west Londoners were getting the bunting out and preparing to celebrate, having moved seven points clear at the top of a Premier League they would clinch with three matches to spare.
However, the feelgood factor disappeared during an appalling start to their title defence, costing Jose Mourinho his job as Guus Hiddink was again brought in to save the day.
It is a job the Dutchman has done impressively but the 69-year-old was always going to be a short-term solution, and few eyebrows were raised when it was announced on Monday that Conte would take control after managing Italy at Euro 2016.
The former Juventus manager has been linked with the job for a number of months and his appointment fills former Chelsea defender Harris with hope.
“I think for the last few months his name has been linked with Chelsea, so I don’t think it was a surprise to a lot of people,” ‘Chopper’ Harris told Press Association Sport.
“It has come out officially yesterday that he will be the next manager.
“He has got Italy into the European Championship finals and his spell at Juventus was very good, so hopefully he can do the same thing at Chelsea.
“I always say to people I was very competitive – maybe that’s what (Chelsea need).
“If you look at his track record, he has done very well. He wants to be a winner.
“People only want to know winners. If I asked you to name who won the Premier League last year you would know that – but not who ended seventh or eighth.
“You wouldn’t know the quarter-finalists in last year’s FA Cup either – people want to know winners and he reminds me of that type of fella.”
Conte arrives in England with a reputation for being a stern taskmaster and fierce competitor, while the Italian has shown he is not afraid to make tough decisions.
Such strength of character is understood to have attracted Chelsea and will be put to the test from the outset, with Diego Costa amongst those reportedly agitating for a move.
There is also the issue of whether captain John Terry stays at Stamford Bridge.
The 35-year-old announced in January that he would end his long association with the club at the end of the campaign – but Chelsea maintain the possibility of a contract extension remains.
Frank Lampard, for example, penned a one-year deal in 2013 after months of uncertainty, although the all-time leading scorer did leave the following summer.
Terry’s exit would send even bigger ripples around the footballing world, but Harris highlighted the collective strength of Chelsea over any individual.
“I remember having a bet with Frank Lampard and John Terry that they won’t beat my record,” Harris said of his record of 795 Chelsea appearances.
“I am still confident if John stayed there next season, he is still 70 or 80 games short.
“But I don’t want to get involved in whether they should keep him if it’s the club’s policy that if people reach a certain age…like has happened to other players.
“There will always be a Chelsea with or without Ron Harris, Frank Lampard and John Terry.
“Maybe things might change now that a new manager has come on the scene.
“We’ll have to wait until nearer the time to see whether John will be at Chelsea next season, or looking for another club.”