LONDON • Antonio Conte warned Chelsea to sack him at their peril, declaring that if they do, the club will be losing "a serial winner".
A hard-fought 1-0 victory in the FA Cup final against Manchester United on Saturday gave Conte the record of having won a trophy in each of his last five seasons in management.
The Italian declared the victory one of the greatest of his career, given the duress under which it was achieved. From the start of the campaign, it has been speculated that Roman Abramovich was ready to dismiss the manager, following fights about transfers, and Conte is still expected to be relieved of his duties.
The irony was the man he beat and left without silverware this term, Jose Mourinho, is now poised to be bankrolled again.
His full-backs' toils, and Phil Jones' difficulties against Eden Hazard suggest the United manager is right to demand the bulk of his spree be spent on defenders. Hazard's pace had earned a first-half spot-kick after forcing Jones into a desperate lunging tackle and the Belgian tucked the penalty away for what proved to be the winner.
Chelsea have been exploring managerial options for several months, considering Luis Enrique, Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri. But Saturday's triumph allowed Conte to be bullish.
Antonio Conte won a domestic Cup final for the first time as a manager. In contrast, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho lost his first Cup final in charge of an English club, after winning each of his previous six.
"I think in a difficult season like this, I showed I am a serial winner and this is the truth, and to win in this way gives me more satisfaction than some of my wins in the past," Conte said.
Having won three consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus, he took the 2016-17 Premier League crown in his debut English season but was disappointed when Chelsea failed to secure a series of transfer targets he pushed for last summer.
Suggesting that this season's fifth-placed league finish was no more than he warned the club against, he said he wanted to honour the last year on his three-year contract but would keep pushing his employers for improvements.
"If they want to continue to work with me, they know me. I can't change. And my way is always the same. Hard work and a strong mentality with my players," Conte said.
"I think my past speaks very clear as a player and a manager. You can say what you want, but I am a serial winner and I showed this in England after a difficult moment for the club, who were in 10th place (Chelsea's league finish the season before Conte arrived).
"And I think I showed this today because we found the right way to win this trophy. I'm very happy for the players and fans and, at the same time, I'm very happy to the club, and their decision to put me in charge. I brought two trophies."
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill added that victory at Wembley was needed, following a disappointing season where they finished out of the Champions League places.
"This was to save our season," the defender said.
Whether it is enough to persuade Thibaut Courtois to commit his long-term future to the Blues, however, remains uncertain.
The goalkeeper's contract at Stamford Bridge expires next year but he expects the club to splurge on players this summer to compete in the league with the likes of champions Manchester City.
"I think we'll see after the World Cup whether I am a Chelsea player for next year," the Belgium international said.
"I think especially if you see how City and United are spending and working. I think if we want to aim for the top, we should do the same."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS