Chelsea board, Conte at loggerheads over more signings

Chelsea's record signing Alvaro Morata in action against Burnley. Despite an outlay of $218 million in the summer, Blues manager Antonio Conte has been griping about his team's lack of depth.
Chelsea's record signing Alvaro Morata in action against Burnley. Despite an outlay of $218 million in the summer, Blues manager Antonio Conte has been griping about his team's lack of depth.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte is in a stand-off with the Chelsea hierarchy over transfer targets, with the club reluctant to bow to the manager's request to spend significant sums of money on experienced players with little resale value.

In addition to personal tension between Conte and some Chelsea staff brought about by what is perceived as his incessant demands, it is understood that there is also a philosophical difference between the Italian and the club as they seek to overhaul their squad.

Senior Chelsea sources have told The Times that while Conte is concerned only with assembling a squad capable of competing in the Premier League and Champions League this season, the board have a responsibility to plan for the long term.

Chelsea have shown a willingness to back Conte in the transfer market this summer by spending a combined £124 million (S$218 million) on Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko, and it is significant that none of the trio are over the age of 24.

In contrast, many of Conte's remaining targets - Swansea City's Fernando Llorente (age 32) and the Inter Milan pair, Antonio Candreva (30) and Ivan Perisic (28) - are nearer to the end of their careers and would therefore have little or no resale value.

Chelsea have also been slow to finalise proposed deals to sign Alex Sandro and Virgil van Dijk, despite having been involved in negotiations with Juventus and Southampton respectively for several months.

Both players are 26, and having been quoted fees of more than £60 million for each, Chelsea are concerned about whether either deal would represent value for money.

The club's preferred transfer policy is to target young players whose market value will either remain stable or increase - the £41 million profit made from selling Oscar, who joined as a 20-year-old, to Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG in January being a prime example - but Conte has little interest in long-term planning.

This clear difference in priorities is understood to be one of the reasons why Conte signed a two-year contract this summer rather than the four-year deal that he was initially offered, with both parties seemingly accepting that the manager's stay at the club will be relatively short.

Chelsea have also responded firmly to want-away Diego Costa's claims of maltreatment, demanding the striker return to training and get himself fit for first-team selection.

The Blues have been forced to respond after Costa gave an interview from his home in Brazil where he claimed that Chelsea had treated him "like a criminal" over his desire to leave the club this summer.

It is understood Chelsea have made four demands of the player if he is to restore relations that have been badly soured.

The first is straightforward, that he should return to the club. The second is that he should report for training, the third that he get match fit and the fourth, and most surprising, that he put himself into contention for first-team selection.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Chelsea board, Conte at loggerheads over more signings'. Print Edition | Subscribe