Emenalo departure hurt Chelsea

Antonio Conte has pointed to the departure of Michael Emenalo as Chelsea’s technical director in the autumn as a key moment in a difficult campaign, as the Italian prepares for what could be his final league game in charge of the club.

Emenalo, one of Roman Abramovich’s most trusted lieutenants, ended a 10-year association with Chelsea in early November despite the owner having personally attempted to persuade him to stay on. The former Nigeria defender had cited a desire to spend more time with his young family, although, as it transpired, he would take up a similar position at the then French champions Monaco a little over three weeks later.

Conte had benefited from Emenalo, a calm voice in an emotional boardroom, as a conduit between coaching staff and club hierarchy, and, while the head coach’s frustrations over recruitment policy over the summer had been perceived as criticisms of the technical director, the tensions had eased in their relationship by the time of his departure.

“To lose Michael, it was a big loss for us, yes,” said the Italian, whose team travel to Newcastle on Sunday with only slim hopes of securing a top‑four finish. “I think so, I think so. Also because Michael did a great job for this club for many years. Last season he helped me a lot during the season. This season, until he left, he helped me a lot. I remember very well he left just after the Manchester United game … For me, for sure, it was a big loss in November.”

Chelsea, who spent around £50m in the January transfer window on three new players, are still determining whether or not to replace Emenalo directly or dilute the role’s duties, many of which are now being overseen by the influential director Marina Granovskaia. Informal talks have taken place with some prospective candidates for the position but the situation will be formally addressed only in the summer.

Asked whether appointing a new technical director should be made a matter of urgency, Conte said: “But this is not my decision. As you know very well, my task is to work very hard. This is not my decision. This is the decision for others. I’m not in a position to say [whether an expert in that field should be hired].”

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