Antonio Conte says he is a hero for Chelsea even if the Blues finish this season with defeat in Saturday’s FA Cup final against Manchester United in what could be his final match as head coach.
A fifth-placed finish in the Premier League, missing out on Champions League qualification, came as part of a season of discontent for Conte.
The Italian last year won the Premier League title in his first season and signed an improved contract, but not an extension, to the deal which runs until June 2019.
And speculation has been rife for the entire campaign that owner Roman Abramovich is preparing to make a managerial change this summer. If so, the Wembley date would be Conte’s last as boss.
“I can say for sure this will be my last match this season,” Conte said. “For me and my players it will be the last game for us. Then, as you know very well, I have a contract and I’m committed to the club.
“In every season you must divide the responsibility, positive or negative, with three parts: club, manager and players.
“Last season we were heroes. This season we are… I don’t know what we are to people, but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.
FA Cup final prep!— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 17, 2018
2ï¸â£ days to go... pic.twitter.com/SAaqcSTvg0
“I didn’t change my commitment for the club. My commitment has always been the same. Maybe this season we worked harder than last season.
“I don’t know if something has changed. We were heroes for Chelsea’s fans.
“But in my soul and my heart, I’m always a hero because I gave 120 per cent, also this season to solve the problems.”
Conte’s belief he has worked harder this season is based on the adversity he says he has faced.
He has made repeated thinly-veiled criticisms of the Chelsea hierarchy, notably over transfer activity, since the title success.
“Usually, when you have a lot of positive situations, it’s more simple,” Conte added.
“When you have a negative situation, then you must be prepared to work very hard, to work to improve every aspect.
“I think in this season, I did this together with my staff.”
The 48-year-old calmly addressed questions about his position, insisting the success of his spell – whether it comes to an end or not after Saturday’s match – cannot be judged solely on silverware.
“There are other people to judge your work, to judge the season,” he added.
“I don’t think I’d be the right person to say: ‘OK, if we win I plan this situation’, or ‘if we don’t win, I plan another situation’. I’m not interested in this.
“I’m interested in winning the final. This is the most important thing for me, for my players.
“It’s right to separate the two things because, otherwise, if you don’t win it means you didn’t work very well.
“Sometimes you can win but the club decides to sack you anyway because they have a reason to do this.”
Conte faces his immediate predecessor as permanent Chelsea boss in Jose Mourinho, a truce having been brokered between the once-feuding pair.
This is the second successive FA Cup final for Chelsea and Conte.
The Blues lost to Arsenal 12 months ago, missing out on the double, and Conte recalls the game well, describing it as “strange”.
One more game to go... let's make it count. 💪 pic.twitter.com/80uhzDsPu0— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 17, 2018
He remained coy on his team selection, refusing to divulge whether Thibaut Courtois, his usual first-choice goalkeeper, would play instead of Willy Caballero, who has played in the cup so far this season.