Antonio Conte and Chelsea Have Been Snubbed By Six Top Targets in Just 18 Months

Antonio Conte has revealed that Chelsea were snubbed by Virgil van Dijk after the Dutch defender opted for Anfield over Stamford Bridge—a growing trend during the Italian's reign.

Conte has been in the hot seat in West London for just 18 months. He won the Premier League title in less than a year in English football, lifting Chelsea from 10th to champions. He returned them to the Champions League and transformed them into a force in Europe once again.

But there is one area where Conte and Chelsea's success has been lukewarm. While capturing high-profile signings such as N'Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata, Van Dijk was just the latest in a list of players who have decided against a move to Stamford Bridge.

"This is football. This is life," Conte said at his press conference on Tuesday (January 9). "For sure he [Van Dijk] was our target but, as you know, this is football."

Instead, Van Dijk became the most expensive defender in world football when he joined Liverpool from Southampton for £75 million at the beginning of the January transfer window. The arrival of Van Dijk to Anfield was followed by the departure of Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142 million on Monday.

"The transfer market is not simple for any club. Liverpool bought Van Dijk to reinforce the defensive line, and I think Van Dijk is a top defender. And they spent €85 million for this player," Conte said.

"Behind every operation there is a programme, there is a plan and I have great respect for every manager, every team. We can have a lot of targets but you must be able to reach those targets."

And during Conte's reign Chelsea have struggled to do that. The former Juventus manager saw his squad bolstered in his first summer at Stamford Bridge when N'Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso, David Luiz and Michy Batshuayi were signed for a combined total of £120 million. But he missed out on Joao Mario as the 24-year-old midfielder joined Inter Milan from Sporting Lisbon.

Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte at Goodison Park, Liverpool, England, December 23, 2017. Conte has been frustrated by transfer business at Chelsea. Alex Livesey/Getty

Then, last summer saw frustrations boil over in West London, with many speculating whether Conte would even be in the role by the time the season began due to the club's transfer business. Chelsea had wanted Romelu Lukaku but instead ended up with Morata, as Lukaku joined Manchester United for £75 million.

Conte also wanted back-up for Morata in the shape of Fernando Llorente, a striker he had worked with at Juventus. But the Spaniard ended up signing for Tottenham Hotspur as Chelsea believed his age—Llorente turns 33 next month—meant it would be difficult to make a profit on him.

This was the case with Leonardo Bonucci, too, as Conte wanted to sign the Italian from Juventus but the Chelsea board saw little benefit in paying for a 30-year-old defender. Bonucci, who won three Serie A titles with Conte at Juventus, was bought by AC Milan for £37 million and signed a five-year contract.

Chelsea were keen on signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a 24-year-old English midfielder who is yet to reach his potential after six years at Arsenal. He was the perfect fit for Chelsea. But Oxlade-Chamberlain snubbed the Premier League champions to join Liverpool for less money than Chelsea was offering him.

Director of football at Chelsea, Marina Granovskaia, has adopted a resolute nature in the transfer window, refusing to pay the inflated prices demanded to the so-called "top six" clubs. Chelsea, though, are beginning to miss out on their top targets to rivals. It is not a trend Conte will welcome.