Conte is right: Chelsea manager is doing a great job at a club in decline

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The Blues boss has come in for some heavy criticism after a dismal run of results but the club's major issues have nothing to do with the Italian

Chelsea's painful January is over, after the club became the victim of its own success by playing nine games in 28 days over a month which ended with a humiliating 3-0 loss at home to Bournemouth.

Antonio Conte lost his only fit striker before the match, as Chelsea yet again had to wait until deadline day to secure their transfer targets, with Olivier Giroud arriving at the 11th hour to replace the Borussia Dortmund-bound Michy Batshuayi.

However, the embarrassing defeat to Bournemouth highlighted deeper, more troubling issues and prompted several searching questions: Is everyone at Stamford Bridge still behind Conte? Will he stay beyond the summer? And what does the future hold for Chelsea?

The Blues were once again outgunned in the transfer market by Manchester City, who spent as much one player in Aymeric Laporte (£57.2 million) as Chelsea did on three: Giroud (£18m), Emerson Palmieri (£17m) and Ross Barkley (£15m).

Some Chelsea fans have grown so accustomed to the cut-throat nature of the business that football has become that they're already calling for Conte's head, while others are now so numbed by the constant chopping and changing that they are nonplussed by the prospect of yet another new boss.

There is also a significant group demanding the resignation of Marina Granovskaia, who carries out Chelsea's transfer business, while also representing the owner Roman Abramovich.

The calls for people to be fired overlook the most pressing questions about Chelsea's future, and that of Abramovich himself.

Can he (or is he willing to) continue competing in a game now dominated by super-rich owners? In addition, how can fans question an owner that has made all of their dreams come true, even if he is now spending less money than in recent seasons? It is a difficult situation for everyone connected with the club to process.

As long as Chelsea finish in the top four this season, Conte could walk away this summer and look back on his time at the club as a complete success. He took the club from tenth place to top of the pile by the end of his first year at the helm. If Champions League qualification is secured at the end of the current campaign, Conte can be proud of what he has achieved on a relatively reduced budget, at least in terms of net spend. 

In addition, the incoming manager would inherit a more youthful squad than the one that Conte encountered when he arrived in west London after Euro 2016.

However, despite being the most successful club in England since Abramovich took over in 2003, Chelsea have issues to resolve, ones that have nothing to do with the coach.

There are clear signs that Chelsea's era of sustained success is drawing to a close, and legitimate fears that they are being left behind by half a dozen top clubs. The financial figures illustrate that Chelsea no longer sit on the top table when it comes to transfer expenditure.

Roman Abramovich

Manchester City have outspent Chelsea for the past five seasons, while Manchester United have the incredible combination of their commercial success and a massive stadium to thank for being able to offer Alexis Sanchez a record-breaking contract

It is not that Abramovich no longer wants to be the best. It is simply that he cannot afford to compete in the transfer market with traditional superpowers such as United, and the new wave of oil money-fuelled clubs like City and Paris Saint-Germain if he is to transform Chelsea into a financially stable business capable of sustaining itself for years to come.

Quite simply, the Blues' benevolent benefactor is not as wealthy as those now controlling the purse strings at the Etihad and the Parc des Princes.

That is not to say that Chelsea are not trying to close the gap. They have new chief executives and chief financial officers who have high hopes of replicating United's commercial success, while they are in an advanced planning stage for a new stadium.

This will take time, though, and the next Chelsea manager will have to accept the fact that the Blues will not be the major player they once were in the transfer market. They will continue to miss out on the world's top talent in the coming seasons.

Of course, Chelsea still have a few superstars of their own. Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are shining examples of what can be achieved by buying young players of great potential. 

However, the fact of the matter is that there is considerable doubt surrounding their respective futures, with both Belgians currently locked in ongoing contractual negotiations.

Thibaut Courtois Eden Hazard Michy Batshuayi Chelsea

Real Madrid have designs on both, while City have entered the fray for Hazard, and PSG are looking at Courtois. In short, Europe's elite may be able to wrestle away Chelsea's key men for the first time in over a decade.

Former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique is being strongly linked with Chelsea but even the treble winner would be incapable of papering over cracks that have appeared under, but have nothing to do with, Conte. 

Chelsea need continuity. They need to give a coach time to build something, like Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. That requires patience, though, both on the part of the club and its fans. There needs to be an acceptance that the coach needs time to construct a team capable of toppling the likes of City and PSG.

Everyone at Chelsea should want that man to be Conte, but if not, the next appointment needs to be someone who is excited about harvesting Chelsea's amazing academy and massive group of loanees to strengthen the squad.

The Blues are presently doing everything to become self-sustainable and that means being more prudent, particularly in the transfer market. So, in that sense, Conte is right when he says that he is "doing a great job".

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That claim, made in the wake of the humbling loss at home to Bournemouth, didn't go down well with many already disgruntled supporters but that merely underlines that Conte is feeling the heat because he is in charge of a club with a decreasing budget yet increasing expectations.

The Italian will go on to achieve great things, whether that is at Stamford Bridge or somewhere else. Therefore, Chelsea should give him the time and patience he needs to do his job.

Chelsea face hardship in the mid-to-long term. The end of January does not signal the end of their struggles, so they should fight for Conte, just as they will fight for Hazard and Courtois. 

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