Antonio Conte returns to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening for the first time since he was sacked by Chelsea in 2018.
The Italian insists he has no ill feelings towards his former club ahead of Tottenham’s Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg tie against Thomas Tuchel’s side, despite the turbulent end to his reign at Chelsea.
Conte won both the Premier League and FA Cup in his two seasons at Chelsea, but by the conclusion of his second campaign, he was barely on speaking terms with the club’s hierarchy.
Throughout his time at Chelsea, Conte had made his feelings clear on multiple transfer targets and wasn’t shy in revealing who he felt would improve his side.
Conte had several disagreements with Chelsea’s board when it came to transfers, which contributed to the relationship between the two parties breaking down, but the benefit of hindsight shows the club were right to not let the Italian get his own way all of the time.
Here are seven signings Conte wanted at Chelsea but failed to materialise…
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
Virgil van Dijk was top of Conte’s wishlist but Liverpool’s swift negotiations and the Dutchman’s desire to work with Jurgen Klopp ended Chelsea’s race before they had a chance to get out of the blocks.
‘I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league,’ Conte said in an interview with The Telegraph.
‘One player was Romelu Lukaku, the second player was Virgil van Dijk, and these two players were very, very close. We were in contact every day and I always said that with these two players we would improve my team by 30 per cent.
‘I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years. It was a pity that it didn’t happen and Romelu is showing with Inter that my idea was right and also Van Dijk has shown with Liverpool that my idea was right for the club.’
Antonio Conte’s preference was to sign Romelu Lukaku ahead of Alvaro Morata but the Belgian ended up joining Manchester United.
Diplomatically, Conte claimed Lukaku and Morata were ‘at the same level’ but
Both players were first choice for a great club like United or Chelsea.
‘For me Lukaku and Morata are at the same level, first choice for a great club like Chelsea and United.
‘You know very well the dynamic of the transfer market. It seemed that Morata would finish at Manchester United and Lukaku at Chelsea. Instead it happened the other way around.’
Chelsea would perhaps consider themselves fortunate not to have taken Conte’s advice on Alexis Sanchez ahead of the January transfer window in 2018.
The Chile international was keen to leave Arsenal and Conte had made it clearly that Chelsea should be in the running before the surprise move to Manchester United was completed.
‘I think it is a good investment,’ Conte said of Sanchez.
‘We are talking about a top player and you can buy him for a price not so high. The amount is around £20 million. Maybe a normal price for Alexis Sanchez is €80-90m. This is my opinion.’
After guiding Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first season, Conte had identified Kyle Walker as someone who could strengthen his right flank.
But Chelsea’s efforts were not enough as Manchester City completed a £50m deal with Tottenham.
‘If you want Walker, you know that Walker is expensive. We tried to buy Walker,’ the Italian said.
Conte wanted a back-up option to Morata at the start of his second season at Chelsea and Fernando Llorente was the Italian’s preferred target.
But Chelsea’s hierarchy had concerns over Llorente, who was 32 at the time, due to his lack of resale value and the striker’s mobility.
A £5m bid was made by Chelsea, much to Conte’s dismay, and the Spaniard ended up joining Tottenham on deadline day for £11.5m.
Having worked with him at Juventus and Italy’s nation team, Conte wanted Leonardo Bonucci to join him at Chelsea.
Conte was keen to add experience to his defence following John Terry’s exit in 2017 but Chelsea did not put forward an offer for Bonucci.
When asked who was his first-choice candidate at the time, Conte replied: ‘It is not important to say if Lukaku or Morata were.
Chelsea were in the race to sign Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he wanted to leave Arsenal in 2017.
But while Conte was keen to add another England international to his squad, Oxlade-Chamberlain was reportedly not enthused with the Italian’s plan to play him as a right wing-back and opted to join Liverpool instead.