Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has spoken out on how close he came to signing Virgil van Dijk and Romelu Lukaku when he was in charge at Stamford Bridge.
The Italian tactician, now at Inter Milan, enjoyed instant success with Chelsea when he led them to the Premier League title in his first season in charge in 2016/17.
The Blues were a joy to watch that year as they ran away with the title thanks to Conte’s innovative 3-4-3 formation that has proven to be hugely influential in English football.
Such systems were rare before Conte took over at Chelsea but are now widely used by Premier League teams, though it’s clear things went downhill for him in his second year at the club.
Discussing it now in an interview with the Telegraph, Conte says he feels his side lost momentum after missing out on Lukaku and Van Dijk, two of his top transfer targets.
The 51-year-old believes these players could have made a big difference to his team, even though Lukaku ended up moving to Manchester United instead and struggling before eventually linking up with Conte at Inter.
“I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league,” Conte told 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.
“For sure, it would have been a different story if I was the coach of Romelu. Romelu is an incredible player and he has a lot of space for improvement. In one year at Inter, he had a lot of improvement because he wants to learn and I think I am a teacher. But he can continue to improve to become one of the best strikers in the world.”
It’s clear Lukaku has shone under Conte at Inter and he could have been an ideal purchase for Chelsea when they needed a replacement for Diego Costa.
Instead, Alvaro Morata made the move to CFC and ended up being a major disappointment as Conte’s side lost their way in 2017/18.