Conte: I’ll make Hazard as good as Messi and Ronaldo

Antonio Conte will not fail for lack of ambition at Chelsea. The 46-year-old Italian put in his first public appearance at the club last week after a week of holiday following Italy’s exit from Euro 2016.

And though there was an element of nervousness and vulnerability about him surrounding his English language skills, he is already significantly better than Fabio Capello ever was.

And given his propensity for rich metaphors and bold claims, he is a man who will not be misunderstood in England. The targets he has set for his players are clear: be the best. By which he means, with presumably the likes of Eden Hazard in mind, be as good as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

I think that Chelsea have players who can become top, top, top players,’ said Conte. ‘I think that these players can still improve a lot with work. Because now we have players, fantastic players, who have great talent but in this moment the world doesn’t think they are the same level as Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba.

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‘But I think that in our squad there are players who, with work, can improve a lot and reach this level. I’m sure about this. It’s important the players understand this. There is the ability to work, to prove and to show that, now I am a top player, but I want to become top, top, top player and I want to stay there.

‘This is important. The mentality is important. The heart is important, patience and the will to improve is very important and in this case it’s important for the manager to take the best players and try to improve them.’

It is perhaps a message most directly aimed at Hazard, the player of the year in 2014-15, and seemingly on the cusp of being one of the world’s great players, yet a crushing disappointment in 2015-16.

‘We know that when you have great players with great talent like Hazard in the team, the expectations are very high. Also, when the season before you have won the title and Hazard has been named the best player in the league. It’s important for us to recover Hazard in the best condition: technique, tactical, physical, overall and with the good mentality.

But I spoke with him and I’m very happy. For me I’m pleased to train a fantastic player like him and also the other players. In Chelsea, with Hazard there are many players with great talent — Diego Costa, many players. I don’t want to say the names but many, many players. It’s important for me, I repeat, next season to create the right spirit in the team and with great organisation, a great physical condition we can have a good season.’

‘When we started the 2011-12 season and Juventus stayed in the best position, the managers of the other teams said: “OK, but Juventus don’t play in the Europa League or the Champions League.” And I replied that I would prefer to play in the Champions League. Because teams like Chelsea belong in this tournament. In the Roman Abramovich era, Chelsea were always in the Champions League and I suffer a lot this year that we don’t play. We don’t play the Champions League.

‘Me and the players and the club, we suffer because we must stay there. For this reason this season we must prepare very well to go back very soon to the rightful position — where Chelsea must stay.’