LONDON — Antonio Conte admitted that Michael Emenalo’s surprise departure from Chelsea earlier this season represented a “big loss” in a difficult campaign.
Emenalo, now sporting director at Monaco, resigned from his position of technical director in November after spending 10 years across the coaching and scouting departments at Chelsea, where he was one of owner Roman Abramovich’s most trusted advisers.
Conte enjoyed a positive relationship with Emenalo, who acted as a valuable intermediary between the head coach and the Chelsea board, and the Italian is expected to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season after months of tensions with the club hierarchy over transfer policy.
Asked if Emenalo’s decision to leave had made his job more difficult, Conte replied: “Yes. “To lose Michael, it was a big loss for us. Yes. I think, I think so. Also because, Michael did a great job for this club for many years.
“Last season he helped me a lot during the season. This season, until he left, he helped me a lot. For me, for sure, it was a big loss.”
Chelsea are yet to replace Emenalo, with club director Marina Granovskaia assuming more direct control of recruitment strategy for the duration of the January transfer window, and it is not yet clear whether a direct successor will be appointed this summer or the Nigerian’s duties will be redistributed.
Asked if Chelsea need to find someone to supply the expertise once provided by Emenalo, Conte added: “But this is not my decision. As you know very well, my task is to work very hard. This is not my decision. This is the decision for others.”
Emenalo was an unpopular figure among Chelsea supporters. His elevation to assistant first-team coach under Carlo Ancelotti came at the expense of Ray Wilkins, a club legend whose departure in many eyes undermined the Italian.
In July 2011 he was promoted to the role of technical director, overseeing Chelsea’s scouting network and academy programme as well as the club’s controversial-but-lucrative mass loan system.
While widely criticised, he also presided over the signings of key players such as Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Thibaut Courtois and N’Golo Kante, as well as a Chelsea academy that has emerged as a dominant force in English and European youth football.
Emenalo is best remembered by many Chelsea fans for the rare interview he granted to the club’s in-house TV channel immediately following Jose Mourinho’s departure in December 2015, in which he coined the phrase “palpable discord” to describe the toxic atmosphere that had developed between the manager and his players.
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.