Football: Chelsea's strategy fuelling Conte's ire

Antonio Conte celebrating with his wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria after Chelsea sealed the Premier League last month. Conte had hoped the Blues would make a significant number of acquisitions in view of the club's return to the Champions Leagu
Antonio Conte celebrating with his wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria after Chelsea sealed the Premier League last month. Conte had hoped the Blues would make a significant number of acquisitions in view of the club's return to the Champions League next season.PHOTO: REUTERS

Manager has still not signed his new contract as club dithers in race to sign transfer targets

LONDON • Antonio Conte will be given short shrift by the Chelsea hierarchy if he attempts to exert greater control over the Premier League champions' recruitment policy, amid suggestions the manager is growing frustrated at the English football club's failure to make early inroads in the summer market.

Reports have emerged in Italy, where Conte is on holiday with his family, that he may be considering his future, with his preferred profile of transfer targets and the number of proposed recruits apparently at odds with that of the board.

The club are relaxed about the situation and insist the 47-year-old has not communicated such displeasure directly. They fully expect Conte to be in charge when the season begins in August.

Yet, it is perhaps telling the contract extension to 2021 on improved terms, made to Conte towards the end of the league campaign, which would establish him as the highest-paid manager in Chelsea's history, has still to be signed.

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He is wary of what awaits next term when his team will defend their title while returning to the Champions League after a season's absence.

With that in mind, he had hoped to make a significant number of additions, strengthening the first team with players of experience, and envisaged the influx of players would have been under way by now.

It is understood his instinct was to target players such as Leonardo Bonucci at his former club Juventus, a player who has turned 30 and would cost in excess of £50 million (S$88.4 million) together with a hefty wage package.

Virgil van Dijk had long been earmarked as a potential arrival but Liverpool's interest in the player - together with the uncertainty over the managerial situation at Southampton, who sacked Claude Puel last week - has significantly increased the Dutch defender's valuation.

Conte was also disappointed that more effort was not made to secure the Belgium forward Dries Mertens from Napoli before the 30-year-old signed a contract at the Serie A club.

The manager has also pushed for the signing of Juve's Alex Sandro or Bayern Munich's David Alaba at left-back, and watched with frustration as Manchester City, in particular, and Manchester United have made high-profile moves in the market.

There had been suggestions, again emanating from Italy, that Conte's exasperation would lead him to push for greater influence over transfer policy, potentially wresting some control from the technical director, Michael Emenalo, despite always admitting his forte lies more on the training pitch.

Yet, Chelsea's strategy in the market has proved highly successful over recent years, for all the regular upheaval of the management staff, with two Premier League titles secured in the past three seasons.

Players are bought and developed, and invariably sold at a profit if they do not make their mark, not least those who graduate through the youth academy.

Chelsea still intend to spend heavily this summer, with the Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko expected to become the first recruit for around £40 million and interest retained in the Everton forward Romelu Lukaku, who could cost a world record fee.

But, with Atletico Madrid unable to register new players until January because of a transfer ban and Diego Costa reluctant to follow through on his mid-season threat to go to China, Chelsea are struggling to offload a player they need to remove from their wage bill if they are to sign Lukaku.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Chelsea's strategy fuelling Conte ire'. Print Edition | Subscribe