Roman Abramovich to finance Chelsea's world record defender deal for Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci
Roman Abramovich has told the Chelsea head coach, Antonio Conte, that he is prepared to make a world- record bid for a defender to try to tempt Juventus into selling Leonardo Bonucci in January.
As the Telegraph revealed last week, Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, is ready to bankroll an overhaul of the Blues squad to help Conte turn the club back into Premier League title and Champions League contenders.
Abramovich was at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground last week and the pair lunched together with talk centred around how the club can make up the ground on Europe’s best.
Bonucci, the Juventus centre-back, would be Conte’s dream signing and Abramovich is prepared to try to make a transfer happen by bidding more than the £50 million Paris Saint-Germain paid the club for David Luiz, which is still a world record for a defender.
Luiz returned to Stamford Bridge this summer for £30 million, but sources claim Abramovich is willing to bid more than £60 million to try to take Bonucci, who is widely considered the best central defender in the world, to Chelsea.
Juventus and Inter Milan officials travelled to London this week, although it is unclear whether their visit had anything to do with Chelsea’s interest in Bonucci or Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who the Blues looked at in the summer.
Conte managed Bonucci for three years at Juventus and also worked closely with him while he was in charge of Italy. The duo enjoyed a close relationship at club and international level, and earlier this year Bonucci said: “Conte will be a big success in England, Chelsea are already a very good team and he will have them challenging both in England and in Europe.
“He is the boss, and if you listen to him and show him respect, you will see he is one of the best bosses in the game. The players in the Italy team nicknamed him The Godfather. That means when he talks, you listen. You do what he says and you don’t argue. Players want to listen, though.”
Manchester City failed in an attempt to sign Bonucci during the summer and Chelsea would appear to face an even more difficult task to convince Juve to sell because they are not in the Champions League.
Any Chelsea bid in January could also spark a rival offer from City, but that will not stop Abramovich trying and there is much talk among rival directors and managers of the Russian’s intention to make a mark in the transfer market.
Abramovich has been eclipsed by City’s Sheikh Mansour and Manchester United in the spending stakes in recent years, but he is willing to redress the balance if Conte deems it necessary.
Following last season’s disaster and early defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal, Abramovich is determined to do what it takes to help Conte succeed in reviving Chelsea’s fortunes.
The defence has been Conte’s biggest problem during his first seven Premier League games in charge. Before last weekend’s victory over Hull City, when Conte switched to a back three and played Victor Moses as a right wing-back, Chelsea had conceded nine goals.
Captain John Terry will return to the defence when he recovers fully from injury, but he will celebrate his 36th birthday in December and has less than 12 months on his contract to run.
Branislav Ivanovic’s deal is also due to expire at the end of the season and the Serb’s future looks bleak after he failed to turn around his bad form and was dropped for the Hull game.
Other than lining up an ambitious bid for Bonucci, Chelsea have also been tracking the best home-grown defensive talent and are one of a number of clubs interested in Burnley’s £25 million-rated Michael Keane, who has been called up to the England squad.
Abramovich also knows that he will be required to spend money on Chelsea’s midfield and attack over the course of the next two transfer windows.
Inter’s Brozovic was a target in the summer, but the complicated ownership of the Croatian meant that a deal was difficult to sort out in the final weeks of the transfer market. It remains to be seen whether interest is revived.
A move for a new forward is likely to have to wait until next summer, but Chelsea are among the clubs closely monitoring Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata.
Griezmann has long been a target of Chelsea, who would be prepared to pay his €100 million (£87.9 million) release clause, while the Blues failed with a bid for Morata over the summer.
Aubameyang has worked his way on to Chelsea’s radar with seven goals already for Borussia Dortmund this season, including one in the Champions League draw with Real Madrid.