Marcel Desailly: The heart of the Chelsea team has been taken away
Marcel Desailly believes Antonio Conte deserves time to put things right at Chelsea after a season adapting to life without Diego Costa.
After winning the Premier League in Conte’s first season in charge, Chelsea are facing a battle even to make the top four this time around, though they do have an FA Cup final to look forward to.
There has been speculation that Roman Abramovich will look to replace Conte if he does not manage to deliver Champions League football, but Desailly believes many of the reasons for the Blues’ struggles this season have been out of the Italian’s control.
“Conte’s philosophy is not working as well this season because the heart of his team has been taken away,” Desailly says.
“First you lose a very important player in Diego Costa, and then you have players like Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso who are maybe not having as good a season. Those two guys were the heart of Chelsea’s success last season in my eyes.
“We have to accept this can happen. One year of success, one year without. Also, you look at the investment of the other teams in England and you will see that teams are not dominant and winning the title for many years in succession.
“There is a lot of competition in England now. Lots of teams have money to spend and they can sign the top players. You have six teams at the top that are very competitive and that is why the league is so interesting.”
“I think one other problem for Chelsea is that they needed to freshen up parts of their team, especially in the midfield, and maybe they didn’t sign the right players last summer.”
One player that Conte did manage to sign was Alvaro Morata, but the Spaniard has scored only 11 goals in the Premier League so far – compared to the 20 Costa managed last season.
Desailly acknowledges Costa is just “one player”, but the former Blues centre-back believes the whole team will benefit from Morata having a full year in England under his belt by the time the new campaign comes around.
“The team cannot say their problems are all down to Costa leaving,” Desailly says. “But they expected Morata to deliver and replace Costa, and he has not done that so far.
“He is a striker who had to adapt to the Premier League. He had some success in Italian football with Juventus, but there you play the game only on the floor and the speed is less.
“He was not a regular starter when he was at Real Madrid, but he came off the bench and scored some important goals. That is why the expectation around him stayed quite high, but he was still in need of a year to develop and understand how the English game works.
“We have seen moments from him that show he is good enough to play for Chelsea, but he needs time and Conte has not had other strikers this season for him to give Morata that time to sit out some games and understand his role in the team.
“He needs to digest what he is experiencing, but in England there is no time. Games comes so quickly and you just play and play.”
Strength of the Premier League
Desailly speaks from experience, of course, having moved to Chelsea from AC Milan in 1998 having previously only played in France.
“I found it difficult at first,” he says. “The high balls, the speed of the game, the physicality. I thought…’what is this’? It is not football like I know it.
“You face different challenges in England. Every Premier League team has international strikers, the physical challenge is different, and it is very different to what I found in France and Italy.
“You need a transitional year when you come to English football. I felt that. Even though I was an experienced player, I had played for some big clubs in Europe, I needed time to learn a new style of football.”
Desailly says Morata will also have had to adapt to the fact that the clubs in the lower reaches are much stronger than those in Spain and Italy where he has played previously.
“The Premier League is the most exciting league in the world, and the defensive side of the game has improved since my time with Chelsea,” Desailly says.
“The level in England is very high. You see the teams at the bottom of the table and they all have top players.
“There is no easy game in English football and that is difference from somewhere like France, where our league is not so strong.
“In England, you have six great teams at the top and some very good teams just below that.”
Life after football
Desailly, who unsurprisingly picks out winning the FA Cup in 2000 as the highlight of his time at Chelsea, says he “loved” the pressure of the big games during his career, yet the World Cup winner does not particularly miss life as a professonal footballer.
“Not so much. It is a hard life and when you finish, you feel free,” he says.
“Some aspects of the game you miss, the big games, the World Cup, but now I have different commitments. I have my charity work, I do some media and I have a life that is more simple than when you are a footballer.
“When you are a footballer, you have to be a role model. You miss the high you have from football sometimes, but it is over for me now. I enjoy my life now.”
Marcel Desailly is working with UEFA Europa League partner Enterprise Rent-A-Car on their Backseat Pundit competition. To find out how you can ride to a game with a football legend and enjoy special rates on car hire across Europe, visit www.backseatpundit.co.uk
By Kevin Palmer