- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) - Antonio Conte plans to infuse Chelsea’s players with the same passion he shows on the touchline and turn the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge from a “small flame” to a “blazing inferno.”

Twelve days after his two-year stint with Italy ended at the European Championship, Conte was presented as the new manager of Chelsea ahead of his first spell in English football.

His immediate brief is simple: Restore Chelsea to being a Premier League title contender. After winning the league at a canter in 2015, the London club put up a woeful defense of the title - costing coach Jose Mourinho his job - and finished in 10th place.

Chelsea won’t be playing in Europe next season.

“We must think about the present,” Conte said in the Harris Suite at Stamford Bridge. “We must stay there at the end of the season, to fight for the title and be there for the Champions League.

“Chelsea belongs in the Champions League, and we must stay there.”

Conte suggested Chelsea would not be among the title favorites.

“We are under-rated a bit, and might slip under the radar,” Conte said, “but I hope there’s a small flame flickering here that can hopefully grow into a blazing inferno.”

The 46-year-old Conte has a reputation for being one of the most animated coaches around. He is perpetual motion in the technical area, acting as if he is kicking every ball.

At times last season, it felt like Chelsea’s players were demotivated and going through the motions under Mourinho. It’s unlikely Conte will let that happen.

“I have passion and I want to transfer my passion to my players, also to my fans,” he said. “I suffer during the game and I want my players to see this.

“I fight with all my strength to reach with my players the habit of the final victory. This is a great challenge.”

Conte said John Terry would remain as club captain next season, whether the 35-year-old center back plays or not. And Conte also plans to call fellow Italian coach Claudio Ranieri, who led Leicester to an improbable Premier League title success last season.

“He’s a lovely man,” Conte said, “and I will ask him a bit of advice.”

Conte would not comment on transfer speculation. His one signing to date is Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi.


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