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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte: 'If you want to improve, you have to buy great players'

Speaking before Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester City, Conte said: 'Don't forget this season has confirmed one thing: that last season we did an incredible achievement.'

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, left, congratulates Barcelona's Lionel Messi after the Argentine scored twice to knock Chelsea out of the Uefa Champions League round of 16. Alberto Estevez / EPA
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, left, congratulates Barcelona's Lionel Messi after the Argentine scored twice to knock Chelsea out of the Uefa Champions League round of 16. Alberto Estevez / EPA

Antonio Conte says Chelsea's challenges this season demonstrate the scale of the achievement in his first campaign as manager, when the club won the Premier League title.

The Italian also said Chelsea must decide the "moment" they are in after again hinting at his season-long frustrations with the club hierarchy over recruitment.

Speaking before Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester City, Conte said: "Don't forget this season has confirmed one thing: that last season we did an incredible achievement."

Conte revived a Chelsea side which finished 10th the previous season, under Jose Mourinho and then interim successor Guus Hiddink, to become champions the following campaign.

The Italian warned of a possible repeat of a "Mourinho season" before this season began, but, although tumultuous at times, Chelsea are still in contention for a top-four place in the Premier League and remain in the FA Cup.

Conte's position has been the subject of speculation for much of this campaign.

He signed a new contract after the title success, but only improved terms, not an extension to the deal which runs until June 2019.

And he has continually grumbled about recruitment, suggesting Chelsea missed an opportunity to build on his first season's success, after the departures of many long-time first-team players.

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Conte said: "If you want to improve, to become strong, to accelerate this progress, you have to buy great players.

"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.

"If you understand the right moment of the club, you can judge in the best way.

"If you are able to win something, it's good. But you have to understand which is your moment, which is your position in this moment, which is your level in this moment."

On another matter, Conte thinks no-one in England is at the level of Lionel Messi, who scored twice in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Chelsea on Wednesday.

Only Diego Maradona and Brazil's Pele are comparable, Conte said, before recalling playing the ArgentinE World Cup winner early in his own playing career.

Conte said: "I marked him [Maradona] when I played with Lecce [against Napoli]. We lost 3-2 and I scored one goal."

Asked if Maradona had made an error in allowing Conte to score, the Italian laughed before providing an answer which again showed his admiration for Messi.

He added: "Before football was totally different. Now this football is modern football.

"Modern football you must be strong, fast, you must be prepared physically. Only talent is not enough to be a modern player.

"You can see when Messi goes for a tackle, he's very strong. He's not tall, but he's very strong. He's fast."