Nick Westby: Charismatic Antonio Conte has exposed a harsh truth about English game

You would need a heart of stone or be the fan of a top-six rival not to have been impressed by Antonio Conte this season.

Antonio Conte has won the Premier League with Chelsea in his first year at the club.
Antonio Conte has won the Premier League with Chelsea in his first year at the club.

The charismatic Italian, with the deep-set eyes and flowing dark hair, has wowed the Premier League with his light-hearted press conferences and exuberent passion in the technical area. The Italian has also provided substance to the image, by creating champions in Chelsea, taking them from a 10th-placed finish to top spot in just 36 league games.

It is a stellar achievement, particularly given his arrival last summer was overshadowed by Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho landing at Manchester City and United respectively.

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Throw in a first full season for the revolutionary gegenpress of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, and barely anyone gave much thought to Conte overseeing a complete about-turn of the Blues’ fortunes. But 10 months on there are holes in the mystique of Klopp, Guardiola’s aura of invincibility is on the wane and Mourinho has shifted his focus to the cups as his side slipped out of the league reckoning.

Sky Bet Championship. Wigan Athletic v Leeds United. United's head coach Garry Monk. 7th May 2017. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

They will all be back again next season, stronger one would imagine alongside a Tottenham team inching closer and closer to glory every season, and Arsenal, those perennial top-four challengers.

But for now, this is Conte’s moment, even if digging beneath the headlines, a season-long triumph for the 47-year-old exposes a glaring truth about English football and its over-reliance on foreign influences.

Namely, that we are not producing English managers of such tactical nous, revolutionary ideas and killer instint.

Conte is the fourth Italian manager to win the Premier League in the last eight years after Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Claudio Ranieri.

Sky Bet Championship. Wigan Athletic v Leeds United. United's head coach Garry Monk. 7th May 2017. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Portuguese Mourinho won it three times at Stamford Bridge while Frenchman Arsene Wenger has three Premier League trophies in Arsenal’s cabinet. Even a Chilean in Manuel Pellegrini can is a Premier League-winning coach.

If we look at Britain as a whole we’re not doing too bad, Sir Alex Ferguson won the top flight a remarkable 13 times with Manchester United and Kenny Dalglish once with Blackburn.

But the worrying statistic is that of the 25 years of the Premier League, there has never been an English manager to win the league title. You have to go back to Howard Wilkinson lifting the old First Division trophy with Leeds United at the end of the 1991-92 season to find one.

For all the Premier League brought more money and greater global interest into English football, making it rich with multi-culturalism, it also squeezed the homegrown talent out of the game.

All these different styles that have been brought into the league – from Wenger’s nutrition to Klopp’s gegenpress – have helped make it become the spectacle it is today, but at what price?

Clearly, the England team has suffered with more foreign imports at clubs and fewer chances for young stars to blossom. Yet the void in the dugouts becomes starker with every year in which Wilkinson remains the last Englishman to win his national title. Take the managers of the top six this year for instance; two Spaniards, an Italian, a Frenchman, a German and a Portuguese. Below them is a Dutchman in Ronald Koeman. Indeed, of the 20 Premier League clubs, only six are managed by Englishmen, and two of those, Leicester’s Craig Shakespeare and Middlesbrough’s Steve Agnew, are caretakers.

The picture in the Championship is similar. Five of the teams who finished in the top six sought stewardship from abroad, headlined by Champions League-winning Rafa Benitez of Spain and Newcastle. The four teams who contested this weekend’s play-offs are led by a Dutchman at Reading, a Serbian at Fulham, Germany’s David Wagner at Huddersfield and Portugal’s Carlos Carvalhal at Sheffield Wednesday.

The exception that breaks the rule is Chris Hughton at Brighton, a man whose deeds in taking three clubs now into the Premier League have earned him a place in the all-too exclusive club labelled ‘bright young English managers’.

He has company there in Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Burnley’s Sean Dyche, Swansea’s Paul Clement, Derby’s Gary Rowett, Leeds United’s Garry Monk and Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom.

If Wenger is to leave Arsenal at the end of this season, will the Gunners’ boardroom give one of those guys a chance to prove themselves among the title-winning elite, or will they stick with the new tradition of the superpowers eschewing what’s on their own doorstep by looking abroad, possibly in the direction of a Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund or a Jorge Sampaoli at Seville?

Probably the latter. Just because they’re foreign doesn’t mean they’re the only revolutionaries. It’s time the top clubs gave young English managers a chance, for the health of the Premier League and of the English game.