Chelsea board losing patience with Antonio Conte's claims he has no say on signings
Chelsea are losing patience with Antonio Conte’s complaints about the club’s January transfer activity and will warn the Italian that he cannot continue to imply he has no input into signings when they are working hard to recruit targets specifically requested by their manager.
Chelsea are trying to sign Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmieri from Roma on Conte’s recommendation but that jarred with the wording of his answers at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday when he instead implied that the club are choosing the players. In remarks that have not gone unnoticed by the board, Conte said: “I think the club decide our transfer market. As I said before, my task is to try to improve the transfer market, from the summer, the club decides every player.”
The club do not want Conte to suggest again that executives, including director Marina Granovskaia, are dictating player recruitment policy to him when he holds a press conference on Friday ahead of the FA Cup fourth round tie against Newcastle United. Conte is almost certain to leave at the end of the season but in the meantime there is a limit to how much criticism the club will put up with until that point.
If necessary it will be made clear to Conte that his post-match remarks have caused an escalation in what has been a mood of negativity around the club that many feel is unwarranted given their season so far. While a long way behind leaders Manchester City, Chelsea are safely in contention for the top four and have progressed into the Champions League knockout rounds and in the FA Cup.
As far as transfer negotiations are concerned, Chelsea have always attempted to land those targets identified by Conte, with Dzeko and Palmieri two of those, as well as the full-back Davide Zappacosta whose first team impact has been less than the club hoped.
Negotiations for a permanent deal worth around £24 million for striker Dzeko have hit problems and the transfer remains in the balance chiefly over the length of the contract offered. Chelsea are prepared to give him to 2019, but the 31-year-old’s existing Roma deal runs for a year longer. The Brazilian left-back Palmieri may yet be a permanent deal worth £20 million or a loan signing with Roma hopeful that three months playing in the Premier League will raise his value ahead of a summer sale.
There have been further complications while Dzeko’s agent Irfan Redzepagic attempts to get a work permit for the United Kingdom that will enable him to travel to the country to negotiate the final part of the deal. In the meantime, Dzeko played and scored an injury-time equaliser for Roma against Sampdoria in a Serie A game on Wednesday. Roma believe they have his long-term successor already in the Czech international Patrik Schick, who joined originally on a loan deal from Sampdoria which will be made permanent.
Otherwise some of Conte’s decisions regarding his squad for the Arsenal game this week have been questioned, especially over what was considered unrealistic expectations for Ross Barkley who made his debut as a first half substitute for Willian. After eight months out, the new signing had played just 70 minutes of a behind-closed-doors Under-23s game against a Queens Park Rangers side at Cobham before he was thrown into the game on 30 minutes despite clearly not being match-fit.
By contrast, Danny Drinkwater, who had a good game in the first leg against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, and is more than capable of playing a full game, was left as an unused substitute.
Conte followed that up with an uncompromising assessment of Barkley, claiming he was the “only substitute” available and that he had “a lot of room for improvement”. Equally, Charly Musonda was withdrawn from the Under-21s squad to play in the Checkatrade Trophy against Oxford United on Tuesday with the expectation he would be on the bench against Arsenal. Despite a strong performance against Brighton at the weekend, including an assist for Victor Moses, Musonda was left in the stands.
Chelsea started the window intending to sign a striker on loan with Christian Benteke, Fernando Llorente, Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll their targets. With none of them achievable so far they have been forced into trying to sign Dzeko on a permanent basis, although if getting the Bosnian proves impossible they may yet return to Crouch with the Stoke City man the most likely back-up choice.
Once the window has closed the expectation is that Conte will concentrate on the team for the final –part of the season. The club will also be able to turn their attention to securing Eden Hazard on a long-term deal to replace his current contract that will have two years left to run in the summer. The Belgian is more important to Chelsea than ever before and he is expected to be offered around £300,000–a-week. The club are hopeful that a deal for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is imminent.