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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Five things Conte must do at Chelsea

Antonio-ConteChelsea confirmed on Monday that Italy coach
Antonio Conte will take charge at Stamford Bridge
in time for next season. Here AFP Sports looks at
five things the former Juventus boss must focus on
to get the troubled Premier League club back on
track:
Resolve Terry's future
Hailed as "captain, leader, legend" on the banner
hung by adoring fans at Stamford Bridge, John
Terry's credentials as a Chelsea icon and a major
inspiration behind their success are well
established, yet Conte will be faced with the
thorny problem of potentially ending that two-
decade love affair.
The 35-year-old defender dropped a bombshell in
January when he announced he would be leaving
at the end of the season because the club had told
him he wouldn't be given a contract extension.
But Chelsea have since insisted Terry's fate will be
decided solely by the new manager, leaving Conte
to weigh up the benefits of keeping a figure of
Terry's experience and tenacity to create a
smoother transition to the new era, while also
pondering whether his fading form and declining
influence in a dressing room now populated by
younger and less deferential team-mates mean it
would be wiser to sever ties with the polarising
captain.
Rebuild the Eden project
Rewind 12 months and Eden Hazard appeared to
have the world at his feet as he prepared to accept
two Footballer of the Year awards and a Premier
League winners' medal while being feted by Jose
Mourinho as the equal of superstars Lionel Messi
and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet less than a year later, Hazard's form has
mysteriously collapsed to such an extent that many
Chelsea fans would gladly wave farewell to the 25-
year-old Belgian if he is sold in the close-season.
Hazard's perceived sulkiness during this season's
collapse made him a target for Mourinho loyalists,
who point out he has scored just twice for Chelsea
this term, with his last Premier League goal
coming in May 2015, but it is the lethargic nature
of his performances that will be most alarming for
Conte as he contemplates how to revitalise the
talented playmaker.
Deal with serial offender Costa
Although Diego Costa's goals fired Chelsea to the
Premier League title in his debut season, he was
already earning a reputation as the
unapologetically snarling face of Jose Mourinho's
combative team and if anything he has become
more moody in year two.
While his predatory instincts are unquestionable,
the Spain striker has lost his focus time and again
as he finds himself embroiled in needless
flashpoints and, with the arch provocateur
Mourinho content to encourage those tendencies,
there is a growing belief Costa was allowed to run
wild to the detriment of himself and his team.
Costa's bear with a sore head impression has
fuelled speculation that he is unhappy in England
and would relish a move in the close-season so,
with Paris Saint Germain and his old club Atletico
Madrid said to be ready to offer him an escape
route, Conte must decide whether to cut his losses
or try to rehabilitate the serial offender.
Change the mood music
Regardless of who stays or goes, Conte should
already know he must rebuild the squad's
shattered morale after what even the club were
forced to admit was "palpable discord" between
Mourinho and the players in the final months of
his reign.
Mourinho's abrasive approach irritated too many
players and their response was to down tools,
leading to his sacking in December, but even the
more mild mannered Guus Hiddink, installed as
interim boss, has only been able to coax a small
improvement in the quality of the team's
performances.
It will be fascinating to see if Conte changes his
own intense style to soothe the fragile Chelsea
egos, especially since Andrea Pirlo, who played
under him at Juventus, described his compatriot
like this: "Even when we're winning, Conte comes
in and hurls (things) against the wall. His words
assault you. They crash through the doors of your
mind, often quite violently, and settle deep within
you."
Make up for a misspent youth
With owner Roman Abramovich reportedly
unhappy with Chelsea's failure to produce more
homegrown talents despite his huge investment in
the youth academy, Conte could earn some early
praise from his employer by unearthing a gem or
two among the youngsters learning their trade at
the club's leafy Cobham headquarters.
Incredibly, John Terry remains the last product of
Chelsea's youth system to successfully establish
himself as a first-team regular with the Blues.
Conte would be wise to try to make the most of
promising midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 20, and
other more untested but highly-rated youngsters
like Charly Musonda, Lewis Baker and Dom Solanke.

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