Chelsea’s boss Antonio Conte urges stars to put their love of football before money
Manager who spent 12 years as a player at Juventus understands why Oscar is making £350,000-a-week move to China but says riches shouldn’t be the priority
Antonio Conte claims players must put footballing passion before cash.
The Chelsea boss, whose midfielder Oscar is preparing for a megabucks move to China, insists a love of the game should always come before money.
Conte spent 13 years of his playing career at Juventus and says: “The most important thing for us must be the passion for football. If you haven’t got that, it’s no good.
“Before the money must be the passion for the sport, for football. We started to play when we were children without money, and only for the passion. Then, also, came money but the passion is more important than money.”
Conte’s Chelsea team are six points clear at the top of the Premier League and face Crystal Palace in Saturday’s early kickoff.
He said: “We are in the best league. Now, to arrive in the Premier League is a great opportunity for players and for coaches, to fight for the title against fantastic players and coaches.
Oscar, 25, is set to make a £60million move to Shanghai SIGP next month and sign a deal worth a jaw-dropping £350,000-a-week.
Conte admitted: “This [Chinese] market is an incredible market. It’s a great opportunity for all: for the coaches, also, not only for the players. They are offering a lot of money.
“You can think [if you get an offer] for one second, or 10 seconds, but it’s very difficult not to think about it. For this reason, I think I can understand if some players say yes to this. Sometimes it’s very difficult to face this situation.”
Although Oscar’s switch is yet to be confirmed, Conte spoke about their association in the past tense:
“I was very proud to have him in my squad and have him as my player.
“I’m proud of his attitude, his commitment and his behaviour, which have been fantastic.
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“I have great respect for every decision made by a single player. If you ask me, ‘Are you sorry?’, then yes, I am sorry. I am sorry because he’s leaving as a really good player and a really good man. But, also, I understand him and his decision.”
Conte also insisted his regular picks won’t take their places in the team for granted.
The Chelsea boss is confident complacency won’t set in despite his first choice team becoming clear during their brilliant run of ten wins in a row.
A small group of players have powered the Londoners to the top of the table — Conte has only made five changes to his team during their sequence of successes.
One of the features of title-winning sides down the years is that their best line-up rolls off the tongue like Conte’s preferred XI does right now, but the Italian insists all his players have a role to play.
He said: “I don’t think this [that there is a danger of complacency]. In our 10 league games, for example, Cesc started twice in the starting XI and played very well.
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“Willian played for Eden in the last game and we continued to win. I think it’s important to involve all the players. Also when the players came to the bench, it’s important to be there in the right spirit.
“I’ve had my players with fantastic commitment when I’ve asked them to come in. I want them to continue. We’ll have to involve all the players in this project.”
Conte may make at least one more change for the Palace match, with Belgian winger Eden Hazard back after missing Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Sunderland with a knee injury.
That victory took Chelsea six points clear, and Conte said: “This is a great surprise because, when you arrive after 10th place last season and change manager, and try to bring new ideas and a new method, a new model of football it’s not easy.
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“In our path, there was a difficult moment when we conceded two defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal. And then we started to work and find the right way for us.”
Another victory will equal Chelsea’s record of 11 successive league wins, which was set in 2009 but spread over two seasons.
Conte isn’t getting carried away about how well things are going and warned his players life is about to get even tougher.
He said: “I like to repeat, there are three games to finish the first part of the season, and then there are 19 games before we finish the season. When you arrive [for a game] from 10 wins in a row, there is a great respect [from opponents] for you, no?
“But this situation is a good situation for the opponent because, now, when they are playing against you, they have nothing to lose. We are winning.
“Now the position is more difficult for us to continue this way than for our opponents. They haven’t got anything to lose when they’re playing against us.”