Moaning Lisa: The Gripes of Year 2 Antonio Conte

Cast your mind back to Summer 2017. Chelsea had just won the Premier League, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso were the Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson of the age, and Antonio Conte – our favourite Moaning Lisa – was planning for a summer of stability, order and sensible signings to cement Chelsea’s position as top dog.

Or not.

I always maintain there was one reason why Antonio Conte – henceforth called Moaning Lisa, or sometimes Lisa in this piece – really connected with Chelsea fans, and with English football fans in general. Not his passion. Not his charisma.

He was a master craftsman at one of England’s greatest national past-times. Moaning about absolutely everything to absolutely everyone.

Whether it was referees, opposition managers, the boardroom, opponents, his own players, the weather, the North-South divide in Britain and especially when it came to transfers.

This piece lovingly looks back at the fun and hilarity of Moaning Lisa’s transfer troubles at Chelsea during his second final season.

Moaning Lisa: The Summer Window

How to Solve a Problem Like Diego

When the summer window rolled around in 2017, it was clear that Moaning Lisa had absolutely one thing in his mind. Get rid of talismanic striker Diego Costa. The logical decision. He made it very clear over SMS that the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard was no longer welcome in London. Did no one tell him rule one of trying to sell a player is to pretend you actually want to keep the player?

Antonio Conte falling out with Diego Costa was dramatic and sudden.
Diego Costa’s fall out with Conte was spectacular and sudden. Image Credit: PA.

But that was okay because we were replacing him with Romelu Lukaku. The former Chelsea striker had been turfed out a few years prior, but after a stellar spell at Everton, the big Belgian was ready to follow in the footsteps of idol Didier Drogba by… transferring to Manchester United. Yep. But not to worry, as the back-up plan for Antonio Conte was to sign Alvaro Morata. An expensive Spanish striker, what could possibly go wrong?!

Antonio Conte and Defensive Steel

One down. Next up, replacing iconic captain John Terry. Tony set his eyes on a certain Dutch central defender at Southampton, but a buck-toothed German had got in there first and already spent a dirty weekend in Blackpool with the former Celtic man. Plan B?

Of course, it was an Italian. Leonardo Bonucci, who made it clear he wanted to leave Juventus, try something different and expressed admiration for Conte. Which is exactly why he ended up joining… AC Milan. That went well.

Eventually, Antonio Rudiger was recruited from AS Roma. To Conte, this was the definition of meh. To him, AS Roma was just somewhere you visited to collect 3 points and marvel at the fact that Totti was still playing despite seemingly needing a zimmer frame.

Flying Fullbacks

Wingback cover was needed too for Alonso and Moses who had defied all odds to look defensively competent.

Dani Alves was possibly available. Rafinha from Bayern Munich too. None of those were on Conte’s radar. Instead, he demonstrated transfer mastery. Step 1) Loan Ola Aina to Torino. Step 2) Sign Davide Zappacosta from Torino to ensure Aina gets first-team minutes. Step 3) Sell Aina next summer. Wait, that wasn’t part of the script.

Davide Zappacosta would then spend two seasons out on loan.
Davide Zappacosta’s goal against Qarabag will remain iconic. Image Credit: Reuters.

Despite this, Zappacosta came in to provide wing-back cover for Victor Moses. The Italian Cafu sold us dreams with that goal against FC Qarabag on debut.

As for the left-hand side. Two words. Alex Sandro. I’m not even going to go there.

Midfield Elegance

Finally, a swashbuckling partner for Player of the Year N’Golo Kante. Chelsea had scouted the Monaco side extensively as there obviously a lot of talent. One player stood out, sitting in front of the back four, quietly controlling possession, always in the right position and capable of taking excellent penalties.

Instead, Chelsea plumped out £40 million on Tiemoue Bakayoko. Looking back at it, you can possibly understand why Moaning Lisa wasn’t so thrilled.

The weeks passed and names came and went. Arturo Vidal. Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. Mattia De Sciglio. Daniele Rugani. Mario Mandzukic. Besides the Englishman, it was basically anyone who might have once pulled on the Juventus jersey. I’m surprised Milos Krasic’s name didn’t pop up again. Conte became increasingly vocal that he needed additional signings and the board finally backed him on deadline day.

Riyad Mahrez’s departure from the Algeria Training Camp. Nabil Fekir being obviously available from Lyon. Thomas Lemar up for auction. Surely one of them was a good solution.

With Moaning Lisa still whining about needing midfield depth despite the acquisition of Bakayoko – and having ignored Lewis Baker’s stellar season at Vitesse in favour of loaning him to his fellow Tony, Messr Pulis – Chelsea proceeded to conduct one of the most bizarre and baffling transfers in their history. Danny Drinkwater, who had a Premier League medal largely due to the exploits of N’Golo Kante was drafted in for £30 million. Yes, £30 million. Although Neymar’s transfer the summer beforehand had screwed up the markets, this one was bonkers and then some.

Of course, Moaning Lisa made sure everyone knew that he did not want, nor ever wanted Drinkwater. If he’d had an Italian passport, or sang Amore as his induction song, maybe it would have been a different story.

Oh, Chelsea also tried to sign Ross Barkley for a similar amount, but in typical Barkley fashion, he showed great speed and ability to get to Cobham, only to be unable to actually get through the doors.

Antonio Conte & The January Window

Unsurprisingly, by the time January rolled around several things were clear:

  1. Danny Drinkwater was not actually the English Iniesta.
  2. Alvaro Morata modelled his career on Loic Remy’s always-offside mentality.
  3. Davide Zappacosta was the definition of ‘tries hard, but not sure he does a lot’

Of course, if you’d listened to any of Antonio’s press conferences since about September, you’d have known all of these points. Gone was the charismatic, charming ‘can I try some cake’ Conte of the first season and instead, the gnarled, grizzled Moaning Lisa was now in total control.

How better to appease an angry Italian with some transfer activity?

The ‘Real’ English Iniesta

First up, Chelsea finally ensnared Ross Barkley. At the time, this felt a little bit like payback from the John Stones deal and the reaction of Everton fans was meh. The reaction of most Chelsea fans was meh. Meanwhile, our own John Tateossian was knee-sliding across the room, ripping his shirt off to show off his Barkliniesta tattoo.

At least he contributed to the homegrown quota?

A Brazilian (Italian) not named Alex Sandro

Secondly, Chelsea finally accepted that Marcos Alonso might not actually be the second coming of Ashley Cole. Conte must have been watching Premier League Years 2012 and 2014 because he only had one name on his shortlist at the beginning. Former Manchester City man Aleksandar Kolarov. The Serbian fullback – renowned for his excellent shooting but his lack of pace and defensive lapses.

If you are thinking that sounds familiar, it’s the Serbian Marcos Alonso. However, Roma weren’t keen on selling the man they only acquired six months beforehand, but they did instead offer Moaning Lisa a swell deal. Emerson Palmieri!

Emerson Palmieri in action for Roma.
Emerson Palmieri had a fantastic season at Roma. Before being injured. Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

What, you don’t know who Emerson is? Only one of the top three left-backs in Serie A in 2016-17! I mean, sure he’d spent 8 months out injured and only amassed 34 appearances in 4 years at the Olimpico, but the Blues forked out for a deal that could cost nearly €30m in total for the Brazilian-turned-Italian who had made one appearance that season.

To Emerson’s credit, he showed flashes of being a very good fullback. The problem is, these flashes were few and far between, meaning he almost instantly found his role at Chelsea on the bench – not unlike his role at Roma.

Antonio Conte’s Big Man Up Front

Conte had lost faith with Alvaro Morata. To be fair, most Chelsea fans had. He wanted another option as Michy Batshuayi was not cutting the mustard either. To those familiar with Football Manager, Conte wanted the archetype ‘Target Man’ Plan B that we all sign purely to feel smug when we play Burnley away.

Again, raiding Roma looked to be a popular choice. Edin Džeko was available for a sensible fee. He had Premier League and Champions League experience. Plus he was 6ft plus. What more could Antonio Conte have asked for?

Edin Džeko scores against Chelsea no doubt impressing Antonio Conte.
Edin Džeko looked like. a great signing on paper. Image Credit: PA.

Apparently, Edin Džeko had other plans as he ummed and erred about a deal. As a result, Chelsea responded in a calm and composed manner. Within 24 hours, they had been linked with – deep breath – Ashley Barnes, Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch. Perhaps Antonio Conte had decided he needed a player who could score as good a volley as Džeko. On social media, fans took the news calmly.

Or not. Chelsea were becoming the dreaded ‘banter club’. To make matters worse, Arsenal decided to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. 90+ pace on FIFA. Obviously this made him world class. Dortmund meanwhile decided to replace him with… Michy Batshuayi. Who currently couldn’t get a kick in London.

There was to be a happy ending though. As Arsenal were busy recording ‘Yo Pierre’, Olivier Giroud was stroking his perfectly maintained beard. For far too long he’d been a scapegoat for fans. For far too long he’d had to suffer mediocrity. Most importantly, for far too long, he’d be been partnering Danny Welbeck. A quick trip to Monsieur Wenger’s office and Olivier was off to swap red for blue. Arsenal fans cheered and proclaimed Chelsea had got a truly awful deal. Thank you Chelsea!

It would very quickly become ‘Thank You Arsenal’ on many fronts.

The Final Word on Antonio Conte

It’s fair to say Chelsea didn’t really help Antonio Conte in the transfer window. He had clear expectations and clear targets. Chelsea didn’t achieve those objectives. Considering the shock success that Antonio Conte achieved in his first year in England – his anger was probably warranted. It’s worth saying that out of his first season signings, only Michy Batshuayi was not a massive success.

However, Antonio Conte did not help himself. His ability to fight with practically anyone and cause issues where none existed ultimately isolated him, and as a result, it was no surprise to see him say Arrivedervici barely 12 months after he lifted the Premier League title.

What followed was madness, mayhem, exclusion, brilliance and unrest. And a lot of cigarette smoke.

Written and edited by Rob Pratley (@RJPJournalism)

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