London – Chelsea are prepared to make Antonio Conte the highest-paid manager in their history and bankroll a lavish strengthening of his squad this summer as they seek to build on the team’s impressive Premier League title success.
Conte, who signed a three-year deal worth around £6.5m-a-season at Stamford Bridge last summer, is expected to open talks on new terms after next week’s FA Cup final. Chelsea are acutely aware the 47-year-old is coveted by Internazionale whose Chinese owners, Suning Holdings, removed the head coach Stefano Pioli last week after only six months in charge and would apparently be prepared to double Conte’s money to bring him to San Siro.
While the Italian has indicated an instinctive desire to remain at Stamford Bridge and lead his team into a Champions League campaign – he and his wife, Elisabetta, have been looking for schools in London for their daughter, Vittoria – Chelsea will seek to deflect Inter’s interest by offering Conte an improved contract which better reflects his startling achievements over a first season in England. He is currently paid less than Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Arsène Wenger and Jürgen Klopp, whose sides he has comfortably eclipsed this season.
Roman Abramovich is likely to offer him in excess of the £7.5m-a-year agreed with Mourinho in August 2015 after the Portuguese’s last title success for the club. Negotiations may still not be entirely straightforward, with Conte expected to seek the appointment of another Italian to his coaching staff when Steve Holland leaves the club this summer to become Gareth Southgate’s No2 with England on a permanent basis. Gabriele Oriali, a former player and sporting director who worked closely with Conte in the Italian national set-up, is a candidate for the role, though Inter have expressed an interest in taking him to San Siro. Chelsea had not envisaged adding to an already extensive coaching staff.
Conte will also seek greater input on recruitment, despite the close relationship he already enjoys with the sporting director, Michael Emenalo, and the influential football club and plc board member, Marina Granovskaia. But both manager and owner, ever conscious that Chelsea’s squad were fortunate with injuries this season, – Conte has publicly praised the medical staff – recognize the need to add depth to the playing staff if the team are to compete effectively in the Champions League.
The club are seeking to strengthen up and down their spine in deals which could cost in excess of £200m as a throwback to the lavish spending of Abramovich’s early days in charge. The Everton forward Romelu Lukaku, who is keen to return to Chelsea, and Alexis Sánchez are both targets, though persuading Arsenal to part with the latter may prove problematic. There is strong interest in the France midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko, a key member of the Monaco team who lead Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals, and the Southampton center-half, Virgil van Dijk.
Conte, who hopes to achieve Chelsea’s second Double with victory at Wembley over Arsenal, is targeting two high caliber players in every position, a strategy that may also see the addition of two wing-backs to challenge Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, for all their considerable contribution this term. The manager would ideally seek to add either Juventus’s Alex Sandro or David Alaba of Bayern Munich to his ranks.
John Terry will depart under freedom of contract, ending a glittering 22-year association with the club, while Nathan Aké could seek a fresh start elsewhere on a permanent basis. It remains to be seen whether Diego Costa, subject of strong interest from Tianjin Quanjian, is still at the club in August. The Spain forward, contracted until 2019, was unsettled mid-season but indicated last week it is far from certain he will move to China.
Chelsea will also be resisting attempts by Real Madrid to lure star midfielder Eden Hazard to come to the Bernabeu and the club will likely offer the Belgian a new contract to make him stay at Stamford Bridge.