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.
“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.”