Antonio Conte has told Gazzetta dello Sport that his primary ambition at Chelsea is to repay the faith that Roman Abramovich showed by giving him the job, even above winning any trophies at Stamford Bridge.
Conte was appointed by Abramovich in April after a recruitment process in which Chelsea also considered Massimiliano Allegri, Diego Simeone, Jorge Sampaoli, Manuel Pellegrini and Mauricio Pochettino as the permanent successor to Jose Mourinho, who was sacked for the second time by the club last December.
Conte has since led Chelsea to the top of the Premier League with nine victories from their first 12 matches, including six in a row after his bold decision to switch to a 3-4-3 formation following comprehensive defeats to rivals Liverpool and Arsenal in September.
Asked what his primary goal is at Chelsea, Conte said: “I want to prove to the owner that he picked well when he chose Antonio Conte for the next three years. For me, that counts more than titles.”
Just four points separate the Premier League’s top five after 12 matches, with Manchester United — five points further back in sixth place — also expected to contend in what many are anticipating will be the most widely contested and open title race in years.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Conte said of Chelsea’s chances of finishing top. “There are six sides in the hunt for the title, one of them will win, three will go into the Champions League and the other two in the Europa League. This Premier League season is probably the hardest ever.
“We need to rival 3. There is no other league in the world with such values of excellence.
“I’m happy, especially for the players, because being top is not only a reward for our work, but it also indicates that we are heading in the right direction. But we must not forget that a-month-and-a-half ago, after losing to Liverpool and Arsenal, the climate was gloomy.”
Chelsea’s rapid revival and reinvention under Conte has been remarkable after a disastrous 10th-place finish last season, though the Italian freely admits that a lack of European football at Stamford Bridge has made it easier for him to hit the ground running in the Premier League.
“To have the team available during the week and in the first months of work here certainly helps me,” Conte added. “It allowed me to deepen my basic concepts, but Chelsea are a club who cannot remain out of Europe.”