LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea manager Antonio Conte goes into Monday’s Premier League game at Watford with mounting uncertainty over his future amid concern the champions may miss out on a Champions League spot next season.
Fourth-placed Chelsea are one point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur after an unimpressive start to the year in which they were knocked out of the League Cup by Arsenal and beaten at home in the Premier League by Bournemouth.
Conte has been the subject of persistent British media reports that he will leave the club at the end of the season after publicly criticising their transfer policy.
Although the 48-year-old has been linked with a return to his former job as Italy manager, Italian football federation (FIGC) assistant commissioner Alessandro Costacurta said on Sunday that he has ruled himself out.
“As Conte reiterated the other day, he wants to continue working as a coach on a day-by-day basis at club level for at least the next 18 months, the length of his Chelsea contract, so he has pulled out of the running,” Costacurta said.
Conte has called on the Chelsea board to end the uncertainty over his future by publicly confirming they trust in his work.
One way or another he may well be disappointed.
The only time Chelsea have done anything similar was in Oct. 2015 when they released a statement backing Jose Mourinho following Chelsea’s worst start to a season since 1979. Two months later the Portuguese was sacked.
Conte’s methods underwent further scrutiny over the weekend when it was revealed that new signing Ross Barkley will miss Monday’s game at Vicarage Road after becoming the eighth Chelsea player to suffer a hamstring injury this season.
Conte has consistently said his squad is not strong enough, although striker Olivier Giroud and defender Emerson Palmieri were recruited last week in an attempt to provide more options.
Publicly at least, Conte is putting a brave face on the situation, refusing to confirm media reports he has been at odds with director Marina Granovskaia, one of owner Roman Abramovich’s most trusted employees, following November’s surprise departure of transfer chief Michael Emenalo.
Conte maintains that he intends to stay until at least until next summer when his contract runs out.
“We are doing the maximum for this club. If the club understands this and the club wants to extend a new contract, we can talk,” he said.
“We can talk. Why not? My contract expires in 2019. My desire and my will are to continue to work with this club.”
Although Conte’s position would be bolstered by a strong showing against Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16, he knows that, after 18 months in the job, he has survived longer than most at a club which has employed 10 managers in as many years.
Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond