LONDON, Sept 9 — Antonio Conte insists Chelsea can still attract the world’s best players despite the chaotic conclusion to their transfer window.
Conte spent much of the close season grumbling about Chelsea’s failure to land his top targets after watching Manchester United beat him to Romelu Lukaku’s signature.
Despite the signings of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger, Conte felt his squad was desperately short of strength in depth following the departures of John Terry and Nemanja Matic among others.
Ahead of last week’s transfer deadline, Chelsea tried to ease their manager’s concerns, only to see their bids produce surprisingly mixed results.
While Chelsea succeeded with swoops for Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater and Torino defender Davide Zappacosta, Conte was left frustrated by snubs from England internationals Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Barkley opted to stay at Everton despite Chelsea agreeing a fee for the midfielder, while Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down the Blues to join Liverpool.
Scratching around for last-ditch deals is hardly fitting for the reigning English champions, but Conte is adamant Stamford Bridge remains a marquee destination.
Asked if he was surprised to be rejected by Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Conte said: “Don’t forget one English player signed. If I’m not mistaken, Drinkwater is an English player. We are happy with him.
“Two new players arrived in the transfer market. It’s time to work together, to work with these new players and adapt them quickly.”
Reports claimed Conte had been told by Chelsea not to speak to Barkley after a chat with Oxlade-Chamberlain about his plan to use him at wing-back allegedly disheartened the England international.
But Conte laughed that off and made it clear players were ready to join a club of Chelsea’s stature regardless of the sales pitch from the boss.
“I don’t want to speak about my England experience, but when I was Juventus manager every single player wanted to come,” he said.
“If they speak with the coach it’s not important. They’ve already decided to come to a great club.
“When I moved from Lecce to Juventus, the Juventus chairman called me, not the manager. He spoke to me and also my mother.
“I was 21 years old. In my case, the chairman wanted to make my mother have the right feeling for this transfer. For the mother to lose one son is not easy.”
‘Think about the present’
The feeling remains that Conte isn’t completely satisfied by the way the Chelsea hierarchy handled the transfer market and the Italian was quick to point out he had only limited involvement in recruitment.
“The club ask my opinion about players who can improve the team,” he said.
“Before giving my opinion I try to take my information about the player, if he has the right experience and character for the club.
“The club goes into the transfer market and tries to do their best. My work finishes on the pitch.
“I like to think about the present. I’m not concerned about the past. We tried our best to improve the squad.”
With a hectic schedule of seven games in 21 days, the depth of Conte’s squad will get an immediate test, starting at Leicester today before their Champions League campaign kicks off next week.
Conte hinted Drinkwater might not be ready to start against his old club, but in the long run he expects the new signing to form a formidable partnership with N’Golo Kante in Chelsea’s midfield.
Kante and Drinkwater were key components of Leicester’s fairytale title triumph two years ago and Conte said: “Together with N’Golo he won the league. They were very strong.
“I need midfielders with certain characteristics and he has that. Now it’s important for him to be physically ready.” — AFP