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Betrayal? No, but... Why Conte remains frustrated at Chelsea

COMMENT: Betrayal? Lies? Frustration? Could Antonio Contereally walk out on Chelsea at the end of this season...?

The short answer (at the risk of you walking out early) is no. Though amongst the hyperbole, there is - or better yet, remains - a 'frustration' for Conte.

The claims that he senses his transfer targets have been ignored by the higher ups are wide of the mark. It's been suggested the Italian feels slighted by football director Michael Emenalo and dealmaker Marina Granovskaia, convinced they've consistently rejected his transfer requests for their own shopping list.

But Conte knows they have tried. Granovskaia, particularly. But for all the spending power he inherited last summer, the reality of being a bidding Premier League club soon dawned on the Italian.

At Juventus, the rising offers lodged for Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly would have been more than enough to get both deals over the line. But not so Chelsea, weighed down like every Premier League rival by the perception of an unlimited transfer budget. In the end, negotiations were getting to the ridiculous stage, particularly with no pressure coming from the players' side of the table.

And even when they did strike an agreement, as with Roma for Antonio Rudiger, there was no predicting his knee injury, which scuppered his move to London on the eve of the Euros.

So betrayal? No. But for Conte, there is frustration - as we've revealed in this column since his arrival. The Italian is convinced the front office lacks the necessary football nous to land the type of quality player needed to have Chelsea competing for the Champions League.

Conte discussed his concerns with Roman Abramovich, the club's owner, during their first meetings together. And as we've mentioned, Walter Sabatini's name has featured prominently during conversations. But for now, with the title all but sewn up, any such radical change to the club's management structure has been put on the backburner.

For Conte, there was disappointment - in the early of months - over the make-up of his backroom staff. The former Italy coach was able to convince Abramovich to hire only half of the long list of appointees he had requested. But the Russian went some way to heal any growing rift by agreeing to Conte's request to have goalkeeper coach Christophe Lollichon moved on and replaced by Gianluca Spinelli.

Conte appreciated the gesture, knowing Abramovich regarded the Frenchman highly, valuing a loyalty and expertise which had spanned almost a decade. As much as tension with Thibaut Courtois played a role in Lollichon's departure, Conte had also insisted upon Spinelli being named the club's senior keeper coach - which Abramovich agreed to only after the season had kicked off.

Conte acknowledges the give-and-take and is happy over his relationship with Abramovich. As he is at Cobham. He has told friends, Tribalfootball.com has been informed, that Chelseadoes lack the "football culture" of Juventus, but in the same breath says "but then, so do so many (clubs) in Serie A".

And he also understands, contrary to what's emerged this week, that the chances of landing any of his top targets during the January market were slim at best.

For the summer window, Conte hasn't sought any assurances from Abramovich about spending and budgets. He doesn't need to. The manager knows the ambitions of his employer - which was made clear last summer.

Abramovich, we've learned this week, put to Conte a stunning proposition. Irked by Manchester United's €100 million backing of Jose Mourinho to land Paul Pogba, the Chelsea owner was ready to go one (or €100 million) better. He offered Conte the chance to bid €200 million for Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

But the Italian turned Abramovich down, arguing that such money would be better spent on "four to five" top class players to rebuild Chelsea's broken line-up.

So, as much as the claims from Italy suggest otherwise, Conte knows Abramovich is ready to spend big this summer. And he also knows those in charge will do everything they can to land his preferred targets.

The frustration, however, is still there. As is the doubt. Can this current front office actually land his 'A' list of wanted transfers?


For any concerned Blue, the best sign that Antonio Conte has zero intentions of skipping out in June is Chelsea's hire of Luca Cattani.

It's emerged just this month that Cattani, who arrived at Palermo as an international scout before working his way up to sports director, has agreed to join Conte's scouting team at Chelsea.

Certainly, the idea that Conte would seek to make such a significant appointment does suggest he is planning for the future with Chelsea - and not for a return to Italy.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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