After Romelu Lukaku’s move to Chelsea now appears to be off and the Everton star heading to Manchester United, there’s no surprise reports are circulating that Antonio Conte is an unhappy man.
Does he have the right to be?
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With Chelsea only signing Willy Caballero on a free transfer so far this summer, it’s been a slow start to the transfer window for the reigning Premier League champs and Conte has every right to be frustrated. There is still time to turn things around, but there’s no denying the start to his and Chelsea’s summer hasn’t been good.
Diego Costa‘s situation has undeniably made the task for Conte, and Technical Director Michael Emenalo, much harder as rivals now know that Costa is no longer wanted in west London (partly Conte’s fault with his texting) and the 28-year-old is closing in a move back to Atletico Madrid. Yet, even with a princely sum incoming for Costa, the Blues will have to pay over the odds for a new striker.
Alvaro Morata and Andrea Belotti from Torino are said to be Conte’s top two striking targets after seemingly losing out on Lukaku, but other deals have not been done.
Tiemoue Bakayako will likely arrive from AS Monaco with Nemanja Matic heading to Manchester United but that deal has dragged on, while talks still continue over signing Antonio Rudiger from AS Roma and Alex Sandro from Juventus.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom for Conte but it’s not ideal with a defining season coming up for the Italian coach as he looks to replicate the incredible success of his debut season in England.
The way he managed to string together a battered and bruised Chelsea side last season and add the unfancied duo of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso to the mix expertly surely should have meant Chelsea’s board would deliver three to four top class players for him to have at his disposal on day one of preseason.
Chelsea return to training at Cobham next Monday and it seems likely that Conte won’t have his top target in Lukaku, while deals for Morata, Belotti, Sandro and Rudiger appear some way from completion with Virgil Van Dijk‘s name disappearing from the reckoning altogether.
With Chelsea’s expectant fans wanting not only a PL title repeat but also craving success in Europe, Conte will want answers from the hierarchy as to why they have yet to strengthen considerably this summer as the added difficulty of juggling a UEFA Champions League campaign will no doubt impact his squad.
When you look back at Chelsea’s past they’ve done business late in the window with Luiz and Alonso arriving on Deadline Day in a real surprise last summer, but before that the arrival of Costa, Matic and Cesc Fabregas ahead of the 2014-15 campaign led to a title-winning season under Jose Mourinho.
There is no simple formula to building a squad and sometimes the dominoes have to fall at the right time in order for a new player to arrive. They haven’t fallen in Chelsea’s favor so far this summer.
Conte’s argument will be that his success last season should have led to Chelsea spending big and taking decisive action early in the transfer window. Up until now they’ve been stumbling around and have now lost out on Lukaku.
With Inter Milan and others said to be offering Conte a huge deal to join them, Chelsea’s boss has yet to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge and this transfer inactivity may have him questioning exactly how much he will be backed when it comes to recruitment as Emenalo is a trusted ally of owner Roman Abramovich and some blame him for the lackluster deals following Chelsea’s title win in 2014-15 which then led to Mourinho’s firing.
The former has a policy of bringing in youngsters and selling or loaning them on for a big profit to delight the hierarchy, plus he has sold on the likes of Oscar, Ramires and Lukaku for big fees in the past to fund future signings.
If Chelsea really want to join Europe’s elite once again they’ll need to spend like it instead of wheeling and dealing to keep similar squad numbers and still make a profit on transfer deals. With many squad players departing over the summer — John Terry, Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake to name a few — Conte has a challenge to not only add quality but also strength in depth to challenge on four fronts this season.
Conte and his staff will be disappointed to have not landed Lukaku as Costa’s departure looms and the reigning PL champs will have to start acting quickly in the transfer window if they want to continue their success.
The next five weeks of preseason will be crucial in Conte, and Chelsea’s, short-term future.