Antonio Conte has paid his respects to Chelsea “legend” Ray Wilkins following his death earlier this week.
The Blues boss spoke passionately about the club’s former captain, who died aged 61 on Wednesday following a cardiac arrest.
The Premier League announced on Wednesday that all matches this weekend will be preceded by a moment’s applause in memory of the ex-England international, whose other clubs included Manchester United, AC Milan and QPR.
Chelsea will have their own tributes to a man who worked as an assistant manager and coach with the Blues, with memories in the matchday programme, a book of condolence and a picture montage all planned ahead of Sunday’s match.
Ahead of that game, Conte spoke about his own meetings with Wilkins and what his loss means to the club.
“It was tragic news for us,” he said.
“We are talking about a really good person. I was lucky to know him and speak with him many times. He was a legend for this club, an ambassador for football.
“We are very sad because it is very difficult to accept this news. We want to pass on to the family our deepest condolences and I think this is a big loss.”
Conte on Ray Wilkins' death: 'It's tragic news. I was lucky to know him and speak with him many times. He was a legend for this club, an ambassador for football. It's very difficult to accept this news. We want to pass on our biggest condolences to his family. It's a big loss.'— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 6, 2018
While Sunday’s game against the Hammers is expected to become an emotional afternoon for all involved, Conte wants the fixture itself to be treated differently to the pre-match tributes.
“I think on Sunday we must be ready to make a great memory to Ray,” he added.
“I think that this will be very important, then there is the game. But I see two different situations and it is not right to mix the situations, we must have great respect for the tragedy and think to play football to give the best during the game.”
Chelsea lost 3-1 to Tottenham at Stamford Bridge last weekend to fall eight points behind Spurs in the race for a top-four spot and Champions League football next season.
Conte admits it will be a fight for the reigning Premier League champions to turn that gap around with just seven games remaining but the Italian still wants to see his players battling until the end.
“This defeat was a bad defeat for us and the opportunity to reduce the gap with Tottenham but at the same time we have to try to do everything to continue to have the possibility to fight for a place in the Champions League,” he added.
“It won’t be easy, we have to be realistic, but at the same time we have to give all of ourselves. We must show pride, desire, will to fight until the end of the season – this must be our target now.
“I think that everyone has to show pride, desire and a will to fight until the end of the season. This is very important for me, for my staff and for the players, also because the supporters deserve at least this.”