How times have changed! After Paul Pogba’s world-record £100 million move to Manchester United was confirmed, it seems pretty hard to take a step back and think about a time where players signing for £1 million had hardly ever been heard of.
Nowadays, the statement still remains true, but in a completely different light. A £1 million transfer fee is seen too paltry even for a player straight from a football academy, with clubs demanding enormous amounts for prodigies who could potentially go on to be world-class players some day.
New Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is one such person, who reflects back on how he was first signed as a player, and how much football – and the transfer market in particular – has changed.
Antonio played for his dad Cosimino’s club Juventina as a kid, after mastering the skills of his trade in a local church yard in Lecce.
Conte stated: “My father was the owner, the coach, the kit man and everything else. He did all the jobs.
“Then, when I was 13, Lecce bought me and one of my team-mates. The transfer fee was eight footballs — and three of them were flat!
“They were expensive footballs and they also threw in 200,000 lira — which was about £100!”
Nothing came easy to young players back in the day. Unlike today’s youngsters who are pampered with fancy cars and a big bloated bank account, academy players breaking through in Conte’s time had to work hard to merit a place in the squad.
Conte made his debut for Lecce at the age of 16, but revealed that he was brought up the hard way by his dad, who was very strict with him.
He added: “My father was very tough, especially with me. He wouldn’t shout at the other kids. He would just shout at me and the other players would ask ‘why’?
“It was because I was his son.”
His tough upbringing paid dividends in the end, as Conte went on to have a marvelous career, glittered with silverware.
He signed for Juventus from Lecce, and made 296 appearances for the club over a 13-year period, winning the Champions League and 5 Serie A titles in the process. He made 20 appearances for the Italian national team, and is well known as a Bianconeri legend.
Despite the success he enjoyed over the course of his career, he stayed true to his roots and never forgot where he came from. He is a very religious man, and revealed that he always prays on a matchday.
He said: “We’d go to mass and then be given a little football to play outside the church.
“Yes, I go to church on the day of the game. In Italy, Sunday is the day you normally go to mass and in the two years when I was manager of the Italy national team I always went to church with my wife and daughter.
“When I can’t go on Sundays then I will go to pray during the week. I’ll go for ten minutes, just to pray and to think. I pray before a game — not for success, I pray for good health. I pray for my parents, wife and daughter and my family to stay well.
“Also I pray in the morning and before I go to bed. I also pray for the people who are ill or who are suffering. I ask God to help.
“I think health is the most important thing in this world. For me, for my parents and for people who are suffering. If, after that, God wants to help my team then I am also very happy! But that is secondary.”
Conte is on a mission to get Chelsea back to competing for the Premier League title, after a shocking campaign last season saw the defending champions finish a lowly 10th place.
He is regularly captured by cameras yelling instructions out to player, but said that his passion shouldn’t be confused with anger.
He said: “For me, it’s not right to get angry. I always have an intensive relationship with my players, very strong, a great link, great passion. Sometimes during the game and training session it can happen that I can shout at them for one situation but then we’re finished.
“And I shout only to improve the situation. When the player understands this sometimes he might be happy because, ‘Oh, the coach looks at me and wants to help me despite the shouts’.
“I think I’ll have a very intensive relationship with my players but it takes time. We need to get to know each other first. That is very important.
“I’ll try to transfer my passion on to the players. I want to see them with the passion that I have. If players have the passion, then it transfers to their team-mates and the fans, and you create a fantastic atmosphere.”
Conte’s Chelsea begin their Premier League campaign with a Monday night home game against West Ham on the 15th of August.