WEST BROMWICH – Antonio Conte’s Chelsea won the Premier League title on Friday, beating West Brom 1-0 as the Italian coach won the league in his first-ever season in England.
This clearly feels like the dawn of yet another era of Chelsea dominance, but it has arrived after huge disappointment last season.
[ MORE: Full “Chelsea Champions” reaction, here ]
At the final whistle most of Chelsea’s players sunk to their knees, pounding the Hawthorns pitch in delight as they’d sealed their second Premier League title in the last three seasons thanks to Michy Batshuayi‘s 82nd minute strike.
For some there was a feeling of jubilation. For most there was a sense of redemption.
The latter emotion is easy to understand.
Following their title win in 2014-15 under Jose Mourinho, this was meant to be a new era of dominance for the Blues under the famed “Special One” in his second stint at the Bridge. Six months later he was fired and they were just above the relegation zone in the Premier League.
Star players Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, vilified by many for apparently playing a huge role with their slack performances on the pitch and actions behind-the-scenes in Mourinho’s demise, have answered all of their critics this season.
[ VIDEO: Chelsea win the Premier League ]
Gary Cahill, captain for most of this campaign, summed up his emotions after Chelsea’s title win was secured.
“It feels amazing. It is a special moment. I thought we deserved it over the season,” Cahill said. “We worked very hard and have been the better team. It is fantastic to wrap it up with a couple of games to go, it is very difficult in this league.”
In Conte, Chelsea have a new figurehead, one that the players not only trust but fear as his ferocious antics on the sidelines seem to only scratch the surface when it comes to explaining exactly what makes him a serial winner.
Conte has now won four-straight league titles (three with Juventus in Italy and one with Chelsea) and throughout the game Chelsea’s fans sung his name loud and proud with Italian flags in the away end and Conte’s face on a banner which simply read “The Boss” which was held aloft.
“Antonio, Antonio, Antonioooo, Antonio, Antonioooo!”
Conte has done a miraculous job to not only turn Chelsea into a title-winning team on the pitch but also off it too.
Mentally, many players will have been focused on proving the haters wrong. For much of last season they seemed hell-bent on proving critics wrong and were angry. Now, they’re focused and have channeled their energy in the right way.
Now, they’ve won the title. So, for this Chelsea team it should no longer be about redemption.
With the UEFA Champions League back next season, there will be bigger challenges ahead for Conte and his boys to conquer. They’ll need a bigger squad ready to challenge on all fronts but they don’t need to break up this team. They just need to add three or four players of real quality but recruiting the right players to not upset the near-perfect balance is a huge task.
Conte’s biggest task will be to keep his team hungry over the offseason. After the game he didn’t want to think about next season and purely wanted to enjoy the moment.
He won’t want the focus to be on these celebrations for too long though.
Mourinho failed with that badly back in the summer of 2015, and other previous champions have struggled to do that in recent years. Manchester City have failed to regain that hunger in a post-title winning season twice in recent years, with no back-to-back winners of the PL title since Manchester United in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
Chelsea’s players, staff and fans certainly enjoyed the moment on the pitch at the Hawthorns on Friday night after securing the title, but knowing Conte his mind will have already thought about how he can replicate this incredible success next season.
His players have got their redemption and have patched up their legacy. Now, it’s time for them to focus on winning more trophies.