Antonio Conte knows enough to leverage ‘posh boy’ advantage

Money dictates most things at the business end of Europe’s top leagues, but the Secret Footballer believes there’s still a place for knowledge.
Antonio Conte knows enough to leverage ‘posh boy’ advantage

My Dad, from regular viewings of University Challenge, came to a philosophical conclusion which he has gone on to apply to many other parts of life. The posh boys always win, he says.

On Saturday evening, as Wembley emptied out, it was easy to shake the head and say that the posh boys had won.

Again.

Last year Chelsea put an end to Spurs’ chances of winning the league. On Saturday they most likely finished off Spurs’ chances of lifting a trophy this season. Are they the posh boys and are Spurs the hapless oiks?

When it suits me I’ll say yes. On Saturday Antonio Conte raised a few eyebrows with his team selection.

It worked out well but being honest bringing in Willian, Batshuayi and Ake wasn’t exactly the recklessness of a riverboat gambler.

Willian and Batshuayi cost €70 million between them. Last year Willian was named Chelsea Fans’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year. When Chelsea saw the player that Ake had become this year they whisked him back from Bournemouth almost derailing poor Eddie Howe’s season.

What is more surprising is that Conte has been able to rely on almost the same 12 or 13 players week in week out this season.

That’s down to having a great physio room and having his team resting every time there is European competition on. There was never any doubt that Chelsea had significant strength in depth.

Spurs aren’t in that place yet. They got mugged when they bought Janssen and Sissoko and the squad doesn’t have the depth to cope with injury clusters or sudden changes of course. And Saturday was a change of course.

Having been beguiled by the sight of Manchester United’s three-man defence coping handily with Chelsea last week Pochettino ignored the fact that he has the best roster of full-backs in the league and played three at the back leaving Son to shuttle up and down as a left wing back come left-sided midfielder.

He’s not one of nature’s natural defenders. That was painfully obvious even before his silly tackle on Moses, who was about to topple over under his own momentum anyway.

Them’s the breaks. When Kane got tired on Saturday there was no Son to call from the bench. He was already spent. By then Pochettino was having to legislate for some mediocre goalkeeping by Loris in response to Willian’s free kick which gave Chelsea an early lead.

Add in the silly tackle for their second goal and finally the thunderbolt goal from Matic. In insurance terms that one would have gone down just as an act of god.

Chelsea scored with four out of five of their shots. For all that I admire Conte and what he has brought to the table this year, if you have a day when you are given a hand like that then you will scoop the pot.

Does it all make any difference in the long term? Now that Spurs have exorcised Arsenal from their house are they going to be spooked year in year out by Chelsea?

I don’t think so. Chelsea will win the league this year. Their run-in is far more attractive than the run-in Spurs are looking at. The four-point cushion should be enough to stop them getting too bruised if they slip up once or twice. They deserve their win.

Looking at the future though I have to call on a philosopher who is slightly more eminent than my Dad (although history will be the judge). Muhammad Ali said that the man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.

Money makes some boys posher than other boys but if that were the only factor determining outcomes in football then we’d be as well to simply draw a line under the whole thing and give up on romance altogether.

What makes things interesting is that all the top teams in the Premier League are on learning curves. Except Arsenal who have taken a quite revolutionary policy decision by setting about thumbing their noses at learning anything other than failure.

Conte came into Chelsea this year as a smart and passionate manager. He inherited a big squad that had requested their previous manager’s head and got it.

At half-time during an early season mauling against Arsenal he switched back to his tried and trusted Juve format and it worked, and it has been working pretty much all season. The stars lined up just right, it happens like that sometimes.

He’ll know though that for long periods on Saturday Spurs bossed the game by dominating the midfield and although Alan Shearer was right (stating the obvious gives you a better chance of being right) when he said on Saturday that possession doesn’t win you games, Mourinho appeared to have found Chelsea’s weak point last week.

Chelsea won’t always score with four shots out of five and when they don’t they are going to need more possession.

Premier League managers, the good ones, are obsessive about looking for where the cracks are in other teams. Conte will know that he will have to reinforce certain areas next season.

At Spurs, Pochettino will have some money to spend but not as much as the other boys. Since coming to Spurs he has had to learn how to deal with Daniel Levy and with being in the Champions League and has had to cope with Spurs’ deeply ingrained fatalism.

That last one may well be the hardest. Saturday was a hard defeat but it wasn’t ‘typical bloody Spurs’, or ‘Spursy’ as the Tottenham fans have coined the team’s uncanny ability to crumble at key moments.

Meanwhile, up at Manchester City Pep has a major refurbishment job on his hands and having only moved into perfectly kitted out work places in his previous couple of jobs it remains to be seen how he does when he goes to the market with a massive wad of cash bulging his pocket.

Mourinho moves on to year two of his tenure. If history tells us anything it is that Year Two for Jose is the year when his key players are wanted by all the other posh clubs.

And Klopp? Still not sure if he is a genius or a chancer. His players seem to be tiring possibly because they are being hugged to death by Klopp or maybe because they had the highest number of players competing in the Euros.

A long season is reaching the business end and it’s a funny thing about football because although there is a break, there is really no rest. In most managers’ heads next season has already begun.

In a world of money, it will make a difference who knows more next season than they did at the start of this.

Meanwhile, the next step for Sky Sports is to just ignore the football and focus purely on the managers’ sideline extravaganzas, with viewers and judges voting along the lines of Strictly.

David Mitchell once did a sketch brilliantly mocking Sky’s hyperventilated approach to football. He reached a breathless shouty crescendo by staring into the camera shouting.

“The football. It will never stop! The football is officially going on forever! It will never be finally decided who has won the football. There is everything to play for! And forever to play it in!!!”

The posh boys can’t win forever. Surely?

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