Ex-champs need overhaul, Conte acknowledges

Antonio Conte has told Roman Abramovich that the Chelsea squad that won the English Premier League two seasons ago needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.
Antonio Conte has told Roman Abramovich that the Chelsea squad that won the English Premier League two seasons ago needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte has told Roman Abramovich that the Chelsea squad that won the English Premier League two seasons ago needs to be dismantled and rebuilt because many of the surviving players are incapable of regaining their title-winning form.

He recommended they be phased out, with Nemanja Matic, Oscar, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill believed to be the most vulnerable. Cesc Fabregas will also be made available for the right price.

It is understood that the manager and owner had lunch at the club's training ground for the third successive day on Wednesday, during which they discussed how to overhaul a group of players who were champions just 14 months ago.

Abramovich is believed to be sympathetic to Conte's requests after watching Chelsea suffer comprehensive defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal in their last two Premier League matches, particularly as the new manager did not demand wholesale changes when he took charge of the club in the summer.

Conte was only able to sign one player - N'Golo Kante - from his own list of transfer targets, with Michy Batshuayi identified by sporting director Michael Emenalo, and David Luiz and Marcos Alonso recruited late in the transfer window as emergency signings.

The Italian initially accepted Abramovich's view that a talented group of players had underperformed dismally under Jose Mourinho last season because of a breakdown in their relationship with the manager. However, he appears to have altered his view eight competitive matches into his reign.

Despite his track record of firing managers, Abramovich remains fully supportive of Conte regardless of Chelsea's poor start and has accepted many of his findings. He is willing to bankroll several signings in January, with a creative central midfield player on top of Conte's priority list.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-champs need overhaul, Conte acknowledges'. Print Edition | Subscribe