Antonio Conte reveals he came ‘very close’ to signing Virgil Van Dijk and Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea – and was in contact with them ‘every day’ before missing out… as he warns he could return to the Premier League one day
- Antonio Conte wanted to strengthen his Premier League winning Chelsea squad
- The Italian had targeted Romelu Lukaku and Virgil Van Dijk as potential signings
- The then Everton forward and Southampton defender went elsewhere however
- Conte still has 18 months left on his Inter Milan deal but could return to England
Antonio Conte has revealed Chelsea came within inches of signing Romelu Lukaku and Virgil Van Dijk ahead of his second season in charge at the club.
The current Inter Milan boss won the Premier League in the 2016-17 season – his first campaign at Stamford Bridge – and wanted to build a team that could be competitive in the years to come with further summer additions.
But he failed to sign either striker Lukaku or centre-back Van Dijk three years ago despite maintaining regular contact with them, and was sacked a year later in spite of winning the 2018 FA Cup after the Blues finished outside the top four.
Antonio Conte has revealed he came ‘very close’ to signing Romelu Lukaku and Virgil Van Dijk at Chelsea
Conte maintained daily contact with the former Man United striker and current Liverpool star
Speaking to The Telegraph however, Conte insists things may have been very different had the then Everton and Southampton players joined his side, and believes their current status at Inter and Liverpool shows he was vindicated in his decision to go after them.
‘I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league,’ Conte said.
‘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.
Conte wanted the then Everton striker (left) and Southampton defender (right) for his squad
Conte was looking to add to his squad having won the Premier League in his first season
‘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.’
Lukaku ended up joining Manchester United that summer, while Van Dijk would seal a £75million move to Anfield six months before Conte lost his job at Chelsea.
Conte was back in a post last year after he joined Lukaku at Inter and led them to second in the Serie A table and finishing just a point behind champions Juventus.
He also suffered heartbreak in the Europa League final defeat to Sevilla, but is determined to put that right this campaign and in seasons to follow.
But he was sacked a year later despite winning the FA Cup after missing out on the top four
The 51-year-old was back in a job in 2019 after returning to Italy to join Lukaku at Inter Milan
The 51-year-old however was linked with Manchester United in August and confirmed he would like to the Premier League in the future.
‘I have this season and another year of my contract at Inter and I started a project here, and, honestly, I want to continue this project and stay for many years because we are building the bases,’ said Conte.
‘But, for sure, in my future, I want to come back to England to have another experience because I enjoyed my stay there a lot and to breathe the atmosphere in England.
But the former Blues boss has not ruled out a return to the Premier League in the future
‘For me, for my family, I’d like to one day come back to England because we lived an incredible experience and we want to continue to have another experience in England.’
Conte also revealed Diego Costa had agitated for moves to Atletico Madrid and China before and during the 2017-18 season, having claimed Conte told him he was no longer part of his plans via text in the summer beforehand.
But Conte insists he dealt with the situation as best he could and maintains that all parties involved knew what was really going on.
‘We know the truth. The player, his agent, the club and I. The truth was only that the player wanted to leave many times to Atletico Madrid and during the season to go to China because he wanted the best contract.’
Conte also said he stood by how he dealt with the Diego Costa situation while at Chelsea
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