Chelsea have no intention of allowing Antonio Conte to leave Stamford Bridge and will back him with a £250million spending spree to prove it. Manager Conte has clashed with Marina Granovskaia, owner Roman Abramovich’s chief negotiator, as he bids to increase his power-base at the champions after his debut-season title triumph.
Media in his native Italy also suggest he is unhappy about Granovskaia’s unwillingness to meet the high price-tags placed on some of his summer transfer targets. But Chelsea are set to press ahead with plans to target £50million defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus – even though he turned 30 last month. They are also in advanced negotiations to land £40m midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco. The Blues are already expected to confirm the arrival of £75million striker Romelu Lukaku from Everton, have another Juve player, left-back Alex Sandro, in their sights — and are prepared to buy more players on top of that quartet.
There has been no progress in their bid to make Conte the highest-paid manager in club history, with a contract offer worth nearly £10million a year still on the table. While it wouldn’t be Chelsea without some simmering tensions somewhere, the club that do drama, intrigue and in-fighting better than anyone, have no intention of losing Conte. Despite the frustrations conveyed to the media back home by sources close to the combustible Italian this week, there is confidence at Stamford Bridge that he will lead the champions into their title defence next season. Conte, a man who routinely picked fights at previous club Juventus, appears to be testing the water in SW6. Having established his authority in the dressing room, he is said to want more control over transfers and a bigger power base at the club.
Two titles in the last three years, however – five since Abramovich arrived in 2004 – suggest Chelsea are more than justified in not wanting to disrupt the structure that has worked so well for them. Granovskaia and technical director Michael Emanalo have delivered on the faith placed in them by Abramovich to bring in the A-listers and plunder silverware. As for claims that they are dragging their heels in the transfer market while the two Manchester clubs make hay, Chelsea did not sign a single player last summer until July 3. And look at how well that worked out for all concerned. New deals for Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard have yet to be sorted. But neither player wants to quit the club as they prepare for a return to the Champions League in September.
So, much as they love Conte – and as much as Abramovich supports him – the Blues will not be had over a barrel as they plan for next season.Chelsea have always known that their boss would reject the call of Inter Milan and their new Chinese owners, largely because the Premier League is the place to be. They still, however, have that contract waiting to be signed. Conte’s decision to tell striker Diego Costa to find a new club by text – without consulting the club first – could be seen as another attempt to test whether Abramovich was as keen to back him as the Russian has made out.