Sunday 18 March 2018

Antonio Conte frustrated at lack of Chelsea signings as Chelsea strongly refute Diego Costa allegations

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has bemoaned the size of the Premier League champions’ squad as he prepares for the new season. Photo: Getty
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has bemoaned the size of the Premier League champions’ squad as he prepares for the new season. Photo: Getty

Ben Rumsby

Antonio Conte is convinced he is entering the "most difficult" season of his entire career after warning that Chelsea's squad is too "small" on the eve of their first match of the campaign.

Conte raised the alarm ahead of tomorrow's Community Shield against Arsenal, declaring he was still more than one player short of the squad required for the defence of the Premier League and return to the Champions League.

His frustration at the club's lack of transfer business has been clear all summer, with talk he could quit tempered only slightly by him signing an improved - but, crucially, not extended - contract.

And his declaration that he was expecting this season to be his toughest ever will only increase the pressure on the club to enter the market again before the window shuts.

"For me, it will be the most difficult season of my career as a coach," Conte said. "I'm sure about this."

Pressed on why he felt that way, the former Juventus and Italy manager tellingly refused to expand, adding: "I have this perception and I hope I've made a mistake."

He had earlier made clear his position on the size of a squad from which more players had left than joined this summer, despite the big-money signings of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger.

Having seen Paris St-Germain beat the transfer world record by buying Neymar, Conte said: "We have a small squad. One player is not enough to improve our team.

We need more players, not top level like Neymar but more players to improve our squad and our quality."

Conte repeatedly sought to play down his influence over transfers by referring questions about their summer activity to the club, including the sale of Nemanja Matic to rivals Manchester United.

Admitting he had been forced to learn "patience" since moving to England, he added: "Everyone can see the situation, not because the coach shouts, 'I want this.'

"For me and for my players, the best way now is to be focused on the pitch, to work, to try to improve and don't think of the other situation.

"But, for sure, we hope, in the future, to improve this situation."

If balancing the books is the issue, then the sooner Chelsea rid themselves of the outcast Diego Costa, the better.

The striker's departure turned increasingly acrimonious this week when his lawyer threatened legal action over the handling of the saga.

Ricardo Cardoso accused Conte of axing Costa by text message and promised to use "all possible legal mechanisms" to force the player's return to Atletico Madrid.

But Chelsea hit back yesterday, declaring Costa was told in January to find a new club next season, having fallen out with Conte by trying to force a move to China.

A club spokesman said: "The lawyer's argument that Antonio has forced the player out by text message is just nonsense." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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