Nobody gave him a chance of winning this title. Not the bookies, not the pundits — not even the man himself.
But nine months on, Antonio Conte stands on the verge of what he believes will be his greatest achievement as a manager.
The former Italy boss, who won three successive Serie A titles with Juventus, will take a huge step towards winning the Double in his first season on Tuesday if Chelsea beat Southampton to go seven points clear of closest rivals Tottenham.
After a sluggish start to the season, Premier League newcomer Conte’s Blues were 20-1 for the title.
Seven months on, they are almost-unbackable favourites.
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Antonio Conte speaks after Chelsea reach FA Cup final
It has been a remarkable campaign for Conte, who was supposed to operate in the chorus line and leave the big stage for last summer’s fellow managerial signings Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho at Manchester City and Manchester United respectively.
The Italian has worked miracles to turn around the fortunes of a club who finished 10th last season and admits to a sense of pride in his achievement.
“Yes, for sure it would be my greatest achievement,” said Conte. “To win the title in England is a great achievement – for the coach, the players and the club.
“We must be proud of our work. It has been a good season but there is only one way for it to become a fantastic season.
“To have this type of season hasn’t been easy but we have worked and worked and worked. Without this work, it’s very difficult to have this type of season.”
Chelsea have been by far the most impressive team over the course of the campaign even though Tottenham have recently exerted some pressure. Blues entertain Southampton on Tuesday and then 24 hours later Spurs face what looks a tougher task at in-form Crystal Palace.
Chelsea, who on Saturday reached the FA Cup final by beating their London title rivals 4-2, follow the clash against Saints with their toughest remaining test – a trip to Everton on Sunday.
Conte knows how important this week is for his title favourites – come through it unscathed and almost certainly they will be champions.
The Italian said: “This is a crucial week for us.
“We played to reach the final of the FA Cup and now, after two and a half days, we play against Southampton when they have rested for 10 days… it’s not easy. Then we have another tough game against Everton away.
“It’s an important week for us. We started it very well and I hope to continue it in this way. We have to beat Southampton and then wait for the result of Tottenham’s game.”
Conte paid tribute to his tireless midfielder N’Golo Kante , on Sunday voted PFA Player Of The Year, and claims the 26-year-old Frenchman can get even better, particularly when it comes to being a leader on the pitch.
“He’s a silent leader,” smiled Conte. “N’Golo is young so he can improve in this aspect. When you arrive in a great team like Chelsea it’s very difficult to try to speak and lead.
“I think he’s a silent leader, and a leader on the pitch by example. He’s not the type of player who likes to speak out. He’s not John Terry in terms of his personality.
Eden Hazard says Chelsea’s players are determined to help Conte become one of the all time managerial greats.
Chelsea star Hazard underlined his admiration for Conte with a glowing insight into the Italian boss’s methods – which also reveals how happy he is at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard, in an interview with beIN Sports, said: “He has made his own history in Italy. Now he wants to make his own history in England so I think he is the kind of manager who is ready to win everything. He won a lot as a player, he will win a lot as a manager.
“He used to play before so he knows what to do in training ready for the games. It’s always because of him. He makes the players play in the right position. “We play, but he decides how to play.
“We train a lot with the ball and without the ball. We play well because we train well. You know everyone is fully focused on the training pitch and so come the game we know what to do.”