A malcontent figure stomps down the touchline at Stamford Bridge. The bravado from the stands as Premier League champions are uproariously welcomed only temporarily masks the problems which envelope a capricious club which history shows is capable of producing self-immolation from moments of joyous success.
From Jose Mourinho and the dying embers of his second Chelsea reign in 2015, you can now read Antonio Conte. A summer wrought with anguish in the transfer market has, once again, provided unnecessary intrigue for when the Blues’ latest title defence begins in earnest – this time at home to Burnley.
What makes the situation even more combustible, more threatening to hopes of progression is how new circumstance has greatly increased the risk of escalation.
For a manager of Conte’s precipitous demands, £135 million (Dh643.2m) spent by season’s start is simply not acceptable.
In his mind, Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, emerging Monaco anchorman Tiemoue Bakayoko, versatile Germany defender Antonio Rudiger and Manchester City back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero must be added to. Personal affront will follow if technical dir-ector Michael Emenalo fails him.
The former Nigeria defender has been here before. When a lengthy and public courtship of centre-back John Stones – then of Everton – ended in failure, the seeds of Mourinho’s demise were truly planted. Worryingly, the repercussions of an inability to add ballast should play out with more vigour on this occasion.
Squad depth has become the main phrase associated with Chelsea’s summer of strife. Both Conte and skipper Gary Cahill have highlighted the damage a sparsity of playing options could have.
But Conte has conspicuously stripped back Chelsea’s squad since his arrival last summer. Only 11 players have come in during this time, with nearly 70 exits sanctioned – some repeatedly via the club’s infamous and prolific use of the loan system.
Not all of these departures seem valid when judged in relation to the manager’s complaints. Was 13 goals in 38 appearances at Ajax not enough to convince that versatile Burkina Faso attacker Bertrand Traore was worthy of keeping hold of, while couldn’t greater opportunity have been granted to at least one of England Under-21 midfielders Nathaniel Chalobah or Ruben Loftus-Cheek in 2017/18?
The impact of this approach is heightened by the return of European football. Conte is renowned for diligent work on the training pitch and making precise demands.
Less preparation time could have an insidious effect. At Juventus, he combined Serie A wins with dispiriting quarter-final and group stage-exits in the Champions League.
Injury also adds another layer to the potential for discord. Early momentum is key during a title push, yet Chelsea must generate it without injured talisman Eden Hazard until at least next month.
Newly-moneyed Everton and Arsenal could be hosted without him, as well as a trip undertaken to challengers Tottenham Hotspur.
Enlivening success was not able to stifle the currents of discontent whirling through Conte’s mind three years ago, as anguish about the summer market led to a tumultuous exit from Juve.
When such a pained decision was made about the club of his heart, it does not seem disingenuous to conclude troubled waters lie ahead for the Blues.
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