Neil Humphreys: Oh just go, Conte
Chelsea boss' petulant protests are ruining his legacy
Antonio Conte has the air of a coffee-shop drunk on the verge of downing one pint too many.
Last season, he was a jolly drunk, always witty, engaging, and cheeky.
Now he plays the morose drunk in interviews.
The smile has given way to a snarl. Complaints have replaced compliments, be it endless gripes about poor performances, player recruitment or a lack of support from the boardroom.
The Chelsea manager looks like a befuddled soul who previously entertained, but has lost the room. The hangers-on are edging away and he's isolated and alone.
And the hopeless 4-1 defeat yesterday morning (Singapore time) at Watford felt like Conte's last orders.
Chelsea are about to call time. He was once the life and soul of the English Premier League party. Now he may not even be missed.
Conte has essentially engineered his own downfall, diving headfirst into the guillotine and goading club owner Roman Abramovich into dropping the blade.
Chelsea's defiant manager intends to leave as he came in: on his terms. He arrived with a list of demands and could return to Italy with the kind of handsome pay-off that comes with an abrupt sacking.
His impending departure seems to be a season in the making.
In the opening-day defeat by Burnley, Conte swopped a sharp suit for a tracksuit, which was reportedly a sartorial statement against the club's austerity measures.
Against Watford yesterday, he refused to pick new signing Olivier Giroud, persisting with Eden Hazard in a No. 9 role that suited neither the Belgian nor the team.
After a second successive defeat by three goals, which hasn't happened at Chelsea in 23 years, Conte insisted he'd sleep soundly. He had given his all.
The inference was clear. Look elsewhere for accountability. Follow the money (or lack of it). Examine the boardroom, not the dugout.
But Conte's apparent naivety to the ruthless, omnipotent workings of a club that have fired nine managers in 15 years seems implausible.
He knew what and who he was working with.
He also knew what he was doing when he fired his combative, title-winning striker by text message.
Conte's demise arguably began the day he lost Diego Costa.
Between the Spaniard, John Terry and Nemanja Matic, the club sold over 700 Premier League games worth of Chelsea experience.
Conte's impetuous decisions tore out the Blues' spine. Natural-born leaders left. Antonio Ruediger, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko came in. None of them would be considered upgrades.
Conte's initial dynamism has given way to dogma. He introduced a back three to make the most of his limited resources and won the title.
He's lost the title this time around because he persevered with the same formation, but the wrong players.
Bakayoko isn't a Matic clone anymore than Hazard is a conventional target man, but Conte refuses to tinker, or promote Giroud, or stop Michy Batshuayi from leaving on loan.
Instead, he courted the likes of Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch, cliched big men who were not considered title contenders in their youthful prime, let alone now.
Conte's interest felt like a petty protest, an unsubtle attempt to remind the Chelsea faithful (and maybe future employers) that he doesn't have the financial backing required to succeed.
None of this is his fault. It's not him. It's them. It's everyone else. The game's greatest cheerleader has turned into a repetitive bore and that's such a shame.
His tactical tweaks and madcap touchline celebrations made Conte such an intoxicating presence and he's still in the FA Cup, the Champions League's last 16 and the EPL top four.
But the current Chelsea experience is one utterly devoid of joy.
Conte's energy seems spent, as if last season's title heroics drained every ounce of intensity and he's got nothing left to give.
Perhaps he knows that this time of the year is the season for sackings at Chelsea. Just ask Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas. Perhaps there's an offer to return to an Italian club. Or perhaps he's lost the players.
Chelsea's squads are famous for only singing when they're winning. At other times, they're singing the Blues to board members.
Either way, Conte's heart belongs elsewhere. He wants out.
It's only a matter of time before Abramovich obliges.
When the axe comes, Conte will get a huge pay-off. But he might be short on pity.
70.3 Chelsea boss Antonio Conte might be under fire, but he has the joint-best win rate of any manager in Premier League history who has managed at least five matches. His 70.3 per cent record is shared by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.