LONDON -- Antonio Conte insisted he will always consider himself a "hero" for working even harder and better at Chelsea than last season to overcome the "negative situation" he has encountered.
Chelsea face Manchester United in Saturday's FA Cup final knowing that even victory will not redeem a disappointing Premier League campaign that ended with a fifth-place finish, ensuring there will be no Champions League football at Stamford Bridge next season.
Conte is expected to leave Chelsea after months of public and private tensions with the club hierarchy over transfer policy, coupled with a disastrous decline in results on the pitch since the turn of the year.
But the Italian is adamant that he and his players will always have clear consciences for the effort and commitment they have shown in increasingly difficult circumstances.
"My commitment has always been the same," he insisted. "Maybe this season we worked harder than last season. I don't know if something has changed... last season we were heroes for Chelsea's fans. Now our stance, me and the players, has changed.
"I don't know [what went wrong]. But in my soul and my heart, I'm always a hero because I gave 120 percent, also this season to solve the problems.
"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."
Asked why he felt that he has done a better job than in his Premier League title-winning debut campaign, Conte replied: "Usually, when you have a lot of positive situations, it's more simple. When you have a negative situation, then you must be prepared to work very ahrd, to work and improve every aspect. I think in this season, I did this together with my staff."
Conte has never wavered in his belief that Chelsea worked "a miracle" by becoming champions in his first season, repeatedly intimating that he has not been given the resources in the transfer market to build on that success this time around.
"Last season was a wonderful season, because we did fantastic work with the players," he continued. "Last season we reached an important success. [But] then you have to understand when you win and the way that you win -- if your [team] is going at 300 km/h, or if you are winning and you are going at normal velocity and you don't risk burning your engine.
"You must be very good to understand this, especially when you win. When you win, you must understand which is the best way to improve.
"Last season we won, and we divided this big win with the players and with the club. Now, this season, we finished fifth. We have to play another final in the FA Cup, and we must divide the responsibility with the club, the manager and the players in the same way, and then to try and gain experience.
"If you are clever, if you are intelligent, you understand what is wrong and what is right. And you to try and improve."