Antonio Conte: Why Chelsea FA Cup win will not save Blues manager
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte delivered a passionate defence of his style and successes while their supporters once more pledged loud allegiance to the Italian - but there was no escaping the sense of finality about this FA Cup victory.
Conte's record in two seasons with the Blues is one Premier League title and one FA Cup win - the latter secured by Eden Hazard's first-half penalty at Wembley on Saturday.
That record is more than respectable. It is more than most others have managed. Yet it will not, barring a currently unforeseeable and remarkable reversal, be enough to keep the 48-year-old in his job once the dust has settled on another season of uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's FA Cup win contained characteristics associated with Conte since his arrival in England after a spell in charge of Italy at Euro 2016.
As they defended the lead Hazard had given them, the Blues were steely, organised, resilient and victorious. He had done to his adversary, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, what the Portuguese has done to so many others - and in a similar style.
And yet Conte still faces the same exit as many of his predecessors, including Mourinho, from a club who live so often in a state of flux and yet seem to thrive on it.
Chelsea's FA Cup win puts a final coat of gloss on a largely disappointing season in which their title defence has been flimsy - with not even a place in the top four to bolster it - and Champions League aspirations were snuffed out by Barcelona at the last-16 stage.
Conte remains a hugely popular figure with fans, his name booming out as he bounded up the stairs to join his players as they prepared to lift the trophy.
It would be enough for most managers to be able to prepare in security for next season - but not Conte. When the celebrations are finished and he has been allowed to enjoy his win, it seems inevitable his departure will be confirmed.
Conte and Chelsea's season has bubbled away on a hob of discontent, the manager cutting a dissatisfied and occasionally disconnected figure, unhappy with his lot.
He made it clear here at Wembley that he will not be adapting his style - and history tells us very clearly that Chelsea's hierarchy (and they have a track record of decision-making and successes to support their policy) will not be adopting theirs to suit him.
Conte said: "To win in this way, this season, gives me more satisfaction than my wins in the past.
"The club knows me very well. If they want to continue to work with me, they know me. I can't change.
"My past is very clear as a player and manager. You can tell what you want - but I'm a serial winner.
"I showed this in England in a difficult moment for the club, winning the Premier League after finishing in 10th place. I've showed this also today in the FA Cup final because we found the right way to win this trophy."
Not quite "back me or sack me" but not far off and the defiance of a winner, someone confident he will always be in demand whether he is at Chelsea or not.
Conte's problem is that for all the glory of this FA Cup final win, there are too many minuses in the ledger, such as the tame end to the season in the wretched defeat at Newcastle United that meant they gave themselves no chance of making a last-ditch bid for the Champions League had Liverpool slipped up at the same time at home to Brighton.
Chelsea backed him in the transfer market by paying £65m for Alvaro Morata, £29m for Antonio Rudiger from Roma and £35m for Danny Drinkwater from Leicester City. Davide Zappacosta also arrived from Torino for £25m.
However, he has never seemed totally on board with all the moves. Ross Barkley has barely figured since his £15m move from Everton, the midfielder's career now in danger of grinding to a complete halt.
And yet, particularly with the flawed sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United and the return of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid - a sale and a deal not helped by Conte's own decision to inform the striker by text he was not in his plans - there has been a sense the manager and those above him have not always been in harmony.
It should also be stressed that not all the sympathy in this situation has been reserved for Conte.
The manager's body language has not been quite the same this season. There has been a sense of disconnect. He has not been the driven, animated figure in his technical area that he was in that golden first season when he won the title and was only denied a league and FA Cup Double by a Wembley loss to Arsenal.
Many of Chelsea's fans may still worship Conte but there is a unique environment at Stamford Bridge.
The supporters may not like the idea of him losing his job - but they will still accept it. They have railed at similar decisions before and yet gone along with them because when owner Roman Abramovich has made those changes in the past, success invariably follows in Chelsea's "boom and bust" managerial existence.
For now, though - and deservedly - Conte can savour this Wembley success. If it is to be farewell, it is a sweet one.
Chelsea's campaign cannot be wholly salvaged by this win because they will not be in the Champions League next season.
It can, however, leave the Italian to reflect on a successful two years at Stamford Bridge if the celebrations that come with this victory are to be his final act as manager.
|Chelsea managers' records since 2004|
|Antonio Conte (2016- )||106||69||17||20||65.1|
|Guus Hiddink (2015-16)||27||10||11||6||37.0|
|Steve Holland (2015)||1||1||0||0||100|
|Jose Mourinho (2013-15)||136||80||29||27||58.8|
|Rafael Benitez (2012-13)||48||28||10||10||58.3|
|Roberto Di Matteo (2012)||42||24||9||9||57.1|
|Andre Villas-Boas (2011-12)||40||19||11||10||47.5|
|Carlo Ancelotti (2009-11)||109||67||20||22||61.5|
|Guus Hiddink (2009)||22||16||5||1||72.7|
|Ray Wilkins (2009)||1||1||0||0||100|
|Luiz Felipe Scolari (2008-09)||36||20||11||5||55.6|
|Avram Grant (2007-08)||54||36||12||6||66.7|
|Jose Mourinho (2004-07)||185||124||40||21||67.0|