Conte makes huge statement ahead of Leicester City FA Cup clash

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Whatever happens on Sunday, or at the end of the season, Antonio Conte will walk away with his head held high.

He and his Chelsea players have, he insists, done “a fantastic job”, even if Leicester beat them on Sunday afternoon and the curtain comes down in May without another trophy in the cabinet.

The Italian, who has endured question marks over his future for weeks now, doesn’t know if he will still have a job at Chelsea come the end of the season. But he remains hell bent on building a side for a bright future.

Whether he succeeds with that mission does, however, depend on how deeply affected owner Roman Abramovich becomes in the political war of words now raging between his homeland and his adopted country here.

And Conte emphasised the importance of the Russian – and his money – in his and Chelsea’s future.

“If you want to improve, to become strong, to accelerate this progress, you have to buy great players,” he said. “I can give my opinion to the club, then the club has to decide how much money to invest, the best way to improve the team. I can give my opinion, but I have to stay in my place.”

In the meantime, beating Leicester and going on to win the FA Cup remains a top priority, but Conte claims “it’s not important” in the full scheme of things.

“We have to try to win this competition, but you have to understand what our level is now. We are working very hard, like last season, and we are doing a fantastic job as well.

“If you are able to win something, it’s good. But you have to understand what our level is at this moment.

“Last season every player performed 120 per cent, maybe 130 per cent. Then, you remember, we lost a lot of players, old players, who had created a base for Chelsea for a long time

“Now we are trying to build a new base, new foundations, for this club. We have a lot of young players who lack experience against teams like Barcelona. Many were playing for the first time in this competition and they need more time playing at this level.”

Conte brushed aside his own career and personal ambitions to win more trophies.

“For me the most important thing is to work very hard, to try to improve the club and the players. Then to understand the moment of the club.

“I’m very satisfied for my job, for the work we’re doing. Me, the staff, my players. We’re doing a fantastic job this season.

“This season has confirmed that last season what we did was an incredible achievement. This season is confirming this. But we have to work to try to improve.”

But no matter how much Abramovich may, or may not, give him to achieve that improvement, money can’t buy him the best player in the world.

Conte admitted that even the in-form Willian or Eden Hazard can’t compete with Lionel Messi, the Barcelona-based magician who knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League last week. Only the legendary Pele and Diego Maradonna are in his league, he claimed.

“I marked Maradona when I played with Lecce. We lost 3-2 and I scored one goal, but it was very difficult to mark him,” he added.

“Football was totally different then,” he said.

“In modern football you must be strong, and be prepared physically. Talent is not enough to be a modern player.

“When Messi tackles, he’s very strong. He’s not tall, but he’s very strong – and fast.”

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