BY PAUL LAGAN
Chelsea’s non-World Cup players returned to pre-season training yesterday with Antonio Conte at the Cobham training ground overseeing proceedings.
This is not what players were expecting.
It’s a time where tactics, philosophy and style of play are cemented. It’s also very much about fitness training.
But with so many players either still on extended holiday or still in Russia as the World Cup reaches its climax, Conte is not the man the likes of David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater, Marcos Alonso, Alvaro Morata, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas were expecting to be blowing the whistle in training routines.
Chelsea’s beleaguered hierarchy are still trying to get Maurizio Sarri to SW6. They will, once that is concluded, tap Conte on the shoulder and tell him his two-year tenure at Stamford Bridge is over.
Of course his lawyer will be involved and the whole sorry affair will be over – he and his assistants will be paid off, their desks cleared.
Conte is very popular among the non- footballing staff and his goodbye handshakes and smiles to them will be genuine.
Then it will be out with the much-titled old and in with the never-won-anything new.
Sarri is expected to be announced alongside Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola as his assistant. Zola is a true Chelsea legend and left the Bridge the same time as Abramovich arrived – 15 years ago.
The Russian tried to persuade him to stay, but Zola is a man of honour and had already given his word he would return to his native Cagliari to end his playing career.
Zola has a mediocre managerial career since hanging up his boots, but the time is now right for him to return to Stamford Bridge.
Should Sarri go the way of André Villas-Boas and Luiz Felipe Scolari, and that’s a quick exit out the Chelsea revolving head coach door, Zola will be perfectly positioned to take over.
But the Italian wants the air cleared and position sorted out quickly. “There’s so much talk,” he said.
“There are many teams who would like a coach like Sarri. I think the parties are working on it, but I don’t know anything more.
“We are talking about two coaches that I respect a lot: Antonio (Conte) and Maurizio.
“I really wish that a quick solution that would be good for both parties is found. At the moment you need to have a clear situation as quickly as possible.”
The ever-affable former striker is already speaking the political language so beloved at a highly political club like Chelsea.
Chelsea travel to the other side of the world to play Perth Glory on July 23. Alonso said of pre-season and the trip to Australia: “Now we want to get back to the top level in the league after a not very good year, and pre-season is an important stage of that.
“It’s always exciting to play in new places and I hope we get to see what the city has to offer
“It’s a great opportunity for us to see our fans from the other side of the world.
“We feel their support throughout the year but we know they can’t always see us play.
“I have heard the stadium is really cool and maybe it won’t be as hot there as it has been in England.
“We hope to put on a good show for the fans. We have to take these games seriously.
“We have got two weeks to get ourselves into shape and prepare for it. The season starts now.”
Danny Drinkwater said: “I’m really looking forward to getting going again. “I had a good break over the summer, it was nice to get away for a bit. The World Cup has obviously been great – that gets you in the mood again, especially with England doing so well. You just want to get back out on the grass and start training again.
“It’s all about building up your fitness at this stage.
“Pre-season is always hard, your body needs time to get used to it, but it’s such an important time of the year. You need to get the balance right between work and rest, watching what you eat and giving yourself the best chance of getting into that rhythm.
“We’re all determined to do better than last season, although it was a good way to end with the FA Cup. We know what is expected of this club and we want to win trophies, that’s what it’s all about.”
It’s not only the men who are working their way to fitness, some of the women are at Cobham preparing for the new season where Chelsea are defending WSL1 and FA Cup holders. New signings Jess Carter, pictured left, and Lizzie Durack, along with returning loanee Beth England, Jade Bailey, Karen Carney, Deanna Cooper and Drew Spence made up the available squad.
The rest of the team come back to full training on Saturday.
One man leaving the Blues is standby goalkeeper Eduardo, 35, who will go on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem for a year.
Four of Chelsea opening fixtures dates and times have been changed for TV. They are Chelsea v Arsenal – Saturday, August 18, 5.30pm – live on BT Sport; Newcastle v Chelsea – Sunday, August 26, 4pm – live on Sky Sports; West Ham United v Chelsea – Sunday, September 23, 1.30pm – live on Sky Sports and Chelsea v Liverpool – Saturday, September 29, 5.30pm – live on BT Sport.