Conte discusses future, mourns ‘big loss’ of Chelsea man

Matt Stead

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte believes the departure of technical director Michael Emenalo was a pivotal moment for the Blues, who appear likely to miss out on Champions League qualification this Sunday.

Emenalo left last November, after 10 years in various roles at Stamford Bridge, including as a link between the first team and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Conte has hinted at a strained relationship with the Chelsea hierarchy, notably over transfers, another area where Emenalo was influential alongside director Marina Granovskaia.

“To lose Michael was a big loss for us,” said Conte, speaking ahead of Sunday’s final game of the Premier League season at Newcastle.

“Michael did a great job for this club for many years. Last season he helped me a lot during the season.

“This season until he stayed here he helped me a lot. For sure it was a big loss.”

Emenalo joined Monaco as technical director three weeks after his exit from Chelsea.

Conte’s future is uncertain, with speculation shrouding the Italian all season and many expecting his departure this summer.

The 48-year-old has one year remaining on his contract, which was improved, but not extended last summer after the Premier League title success in his first campaign.

The Blues are fifth in the Premier League and Champions League qualification is dependent on victory at Newcastle and Brighton beating Liverpool at Anfield.

But a challenging season could finish with a trophy as Conte has taken the Blues to a second straight FA Cup final, with Manchester United the opposition next Saturday.

Conte was joined in London by wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria ahead of the 2017-18 season and described how his family have experienced every emotion with him.

“When you’re manager it’s normal a lot of time to transfer your emotion in your house with your family,” he added.

“I’m very lucky to have a person very close to me that helps me in every moment, in a positive moment, in a negative moment, to face the situation in the best possible way.”

One of the few people to understand the unique pressures of life as Chelsea boss is Rafael Benitez, the Newcastle boss who had an interim spell at Stamford Bridge from November 2012 to May 2013.

Benitez secured Champions League qualification and won the Europa League with the Blues, and Conte praised the Spaniard’s management of Newcastle.

“He’s doing a great job. Last season they got promoted,” Conte added.

“This season he did a fantastic job. I think we’re talking about a manager with great experience who can help the club to develop and improve.”