Monday 21 August 2017

Chelsea to offer Antonio Conte new deal and £200m war chest

Antonio Conte has had a dream start to his Chelsea career. Photo: Reuters
Antonio Conte has had a dream start to his Chelsea career. Photo: Reuters

Matt Law

Roman Abramovich is poised to make Antonio Conte the highest-paid manager in Chelsea's history and bankroll a £200m summer spend as reward for winning the Premier League title.

Chelsea are also confident that Eden Hazard will sign a £300,000-a-week contract after holding positive talks with the Belgian over his future in the days leading up to Friday night's title success at West Brom.

Conte, who has suggested he will stay at Stamford Bridge, wants to add greater depth and versatility to his Chelsea squad for next season, so he can swap between the 3-4-3 formation that has been so successful and his favoured 4-2-4.

Owner Abramovich is expected to grant Conte his wish in the transfer market and also reflect the going rate for top managers in an improved new contract.

Conte's current deal is worth £6.5m a year, less than Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp are paid. Mourinho earned £7.5m a year from his last contract at Stamford Bridge.

Inter Milan are willing to pay Conte £12.5m a year to quit Chelsea, but Abramovich will offer the 47-year-old the biggest salary for a manager in the club's history and ensure he leapfrogs Klopp and Wenger in the earnings list.

Chelsea are adamant Real Madrid target Hazard will not be sold in the summer and are understood to have told the 26-year-old that he can achieve all of his ambitions at Stamford Bridge during an encouraging meeting.

With the club willing to hand him a £300,000-a-week contract, Hazard gave Chelsea further reason for optimism by giving an interview in which he claimed he could win the Ballon d'Or with his current employers.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who has also been linked with Real Madrid, is also likely to be in line for a new improved contract this summer. The Belgium No 1 said that he expected to stay at Chelsea. "I am committed to Chelsea," he said,

In the wake of Friday's success, Courtois also said players' morale had dropped so low last year that they felt they were "laughed at" following Chelsea's disastrous title defence, and that this latest Premier League win had restored their reputations.

In a stark assessment of the depths of their 2015-16 title defence, Courtois said that he and his team-mates recognised they had come to be regarded as "a joke" and felt that the accusations of laziness were unfair.

"They said we didn't want to play anymore, they said we were lazy, that kind of stuff, and it's not true. We tried to win our games, but last year was just an off year, especially for a team like Chelsea and the players who were here. Everybody is used to playing for trophies and last year that was not the case, and everybody's pride was hurt. I think that's why we wanted to bounce back this season."

Chelsea already have £60m in the bank from the January sale of Oscar and, together with the return of Champions League football, the club can afford to give Conte the funds to significantly boost his squad.

Striker Romelu Lukaku, who Everton value at £100m, is a top target, along with Southampton central defender Virgil van Dijk and Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko. Conte is also looking for a full-back and a wide player to allow him to play a 4-2-4 when he so wishes.

There will be departures this summer, with captain John Terry going and back-up goalkeeper Asmir Begovic likely to leave, while defender Nathan Ake is also keen to play regular first-team football.

Major doubts also remain over the future of striker Diego Costa, who Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian are confident of signing.

Asked whether he could guarantee he would be Chelsea manager next season, Conte replied: "Yeah, yeah. But we started to do our work, and we have to improve in the next season and to find the right solution. We work only nine months together and I think if you continue with these players you can improve a lot. I think the club wants to fight to win every competition and we have the same ambition, and for this reason we try to keep the best players."

Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is confident the club will fight off Inter Milan's interest in Conte and believes this could be a new "golden generation" of Blues players if the current squad is kept to together and added to.

"We've all heard the stories about Inter Milan wanting Conte and I am sure the club will want to put that to bed as soon as possible," said Lampard.

"They [Chelsea] will want to reward him for this - as all top teams do. There's talk about Hazard, about Costa, about Courtois. But you can't win titles or go into the Champions League without having top players who can make the difference.

"This year, players like Costa and Hazard have made that difference, so Chelsea will be desperate to keep them."

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