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By William Schomberg
LONDON, May 19 (Reuters) - Chelsea coach Antonio Conte declared himself “a serial winner” after leading his side to a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Saturday and said it was up to the club to decide whether to fire him.
Conte won the Premier League with Chelsea in the 2016-17 season, his first in England, racking up a then record-breaking 30 victories in the process.
But the Londoners ended this season in fifth place and missed out on a Champions League spot, leading to speculation that the Italian would become the latest of almost a dozen managers to be dismissed by Chelsea in the last 15 years.
“I am the first to accept every decision for the future. Because after these two seasons I will always love this colour, these fans, this club. And also if my future must be in a different way,” Conte told reporters.
“I think that after two years, the club knows me very well. If they want to continue to work with me, they know me. I can’t change,” he said.
The 48-year-old former Italy midfielder and coach - who won three Italian league titles in charge of Juventus - was an instant hit with the Chelsea fans, who loved his full-throttled passion for the game that sometimes saw him dive into the crowd to celebrate goals.
He quickly banished grumbles about the departure in the previous season of former boss Jose Mourinho, Chelsea’s most successful manager ever.
Chelsea fans chanted his name long and loudly on Saturday.
But Conte’s relationship with the lieutenants of Chelsea owner, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, grew strained almost as soon as the celebrations of last year’s triumph ended.
Conte made clear he was unhappy about being sidelined from many of the club’s transfer decisions, something he brought up again after Saturday’s win.
“To miss the Champions League, for sure is not good for a club like Chelsea,” he said. “But at the same time, I think you have to know the situation at this moment to understand this group of players did their best in this season.”
Asked whether he felt personal satisfaction after securing a last-gasp trophy this year, he said it had been a difficult — but ultimately successful — campaign.
“When you have this type of season, there are moments when you have a lot of questions for yourself. But also in a difficult season like this, I showed that I am a serial winner.” (Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Ed Osmond, Neville Dalton)