LONDON • Antonio Conte will be free to take up the reins at Chelsea after Euro 2016, regardless of the outcome of a match-fixing trial taking place in Cremona.
This comes after the prosecutor in charge of the case confirmed yesterday that he would be seeking a suspended six-month jail sentence and a fine if the current Italy coach is found guilty of sporting fraud.
The prosecution request came just a day after the Premier League champions named Conte, currently the Italian national team coach, as their new manager for next season.
The 46-year-old is one of a number of defendants in the proceedings, with the charge against him relating to his time as Siena manager in 2011.
He strongly denies the allegations, which claim he was aware of attempts to fix the outcome of an end-of-season Serie B fixture between his team and AlbinoLeffe but did not report them. He has already served a four-month ban, reduced from 10, imposed by the Italian Football Federation back in 2012.
The current legal process began with hearings in February with Conte's fast-track trial discussed yesterday. The prosecutor, Roberto di Martino, formalised his request to the court, presided over by the judge Pierpaolo Beluzzi in the northern Italy city, and will seek a six-month suspended sentence and an €8,000 (S$12,300) fine if the case is proved against the manager.
Four things on Conte's to-do list
RESOLVE TERRY'S FUTURE
Skipper John Terry's status as a major inspiration behind Chelsea's success are well established, yet Antonio Conte will face the problem of potentially ending a two-decade love affair.
The defender, 35, dropped a bombshell in January when he announced he would be leaving after this season after the club told him his contract would not be extended. But Chelsea have since insisted Terry's fate will be decided solely by the new manager.
Conte has to weigh up the benefits of keeping a figure of Terry's experience and tenacity to create a smoother transition, while also pondering whether his fading form and declining influence in the dressing room mean it would be wiser to sever ties with the polarising captain.
REBUILD PROJECT EDEN
Eden Hazard appeared to have the world at his feet last season, after accepting two Footballer of the Year awards and a Premier League winners' medal. Yet less than a year later, his form has nosedived to such an extent that many fans would gladly wave farewell to the 25-year-old.
The Belgian'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 none in the league. But it is the lethargic nature of his performances that will be most alarming for Conte as he contemplates how to revitalise the talented player.
DEAL WITH COSTA
At the same time Diego Costa was firing Chelsea to the English title in his debut season, the marksman was already earning a reputation as the unapologetically snarling face of Mourinho's combative team.
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.
Costa often gives off the impression of a bear with a sore head, which has fuelled speculation he is unhappy in England. With Paris Saint-Germain and his old club Atletico Madrid said to be ready to offer him an escape route, Conte must decide whether he should cut his losses.
CHANGE THE MOOD MUSIC
Regardless of who stays or goes, Conte knows 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. Even the more mild-mannered interim boss Guus Hiddink has been able to coax only a small improvement in the team's performances. It will be fascinating to see if Conte changes his own intense style to soothe the fragile Chelsea egos.
Conte did not attend the hearing but, having requested the trial be fast-tracked so as not to impact upon the national team's Euro 2016 participation, will await a ruling in mid-May.
Chelsea declined to comment on what is an ongoing legal process, but are understood to be privately reassured by Conte's consistent insistence of innocence. Regardless, there would technically be no obstacles barring him from taking up his new position even if he is found guilty and the judge imposes a suspended sentence.
The three-time Serie A winning manager has declared he will not comment publicly on the coaching role he will take on in July until the Azzurri's participation at the continental tournament has concluded. But he is expected to meet the players before the end of this season.
He held talks with the club's hierarchy in London on Monday over prospective summer transfer targets. It is believed that he will attempt to bring Everton striker Romelu Lukaku back to the club.
Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani and Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain are the other hitmen he is monitoring, particularly if Diego Costa leaves Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's first-choice striker is reportedly tired with the scrutiny over his discipline. Just last week, the Football Association handed him an extra game ban and a £20,000 (S$38,470) fine for his reaction to being sent-off at Everton.
Conte's priority, however, will be to sign two centre-backs and two midfielders, with Bayern Munich's Arturo Vidal and Roma's Radja Nainggolan heading his wanted list.
He will also seek to block the permanent sale of Juan Cuadrado, who is on loan at Juventus, to the Italian champions. He believes that the energetic winger can be an influential player in his system next season. THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON