London - Chelsea 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.
Also read: Chelsea confirm Conte as new manager
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
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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