Title-winning Italian inks new deal to stave off Blues exit rumors
LONDON — Chelsea manager Antonio Conte signed a new two-year deal with the Premier League champion on Wednesday as the club moved to quash rumors of a rift that was reportedly pushing him close to an exit from Stamford Bridge.
The deal was confirmed as Conte, who guided the Blues to the title in his first season last term, prepares for a preseason tour of Asia, which will kick off against Arsenal at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium on Saturday.
“I am very happy to have signed a new contract with Chelsea,” Conte said in a statement on Chelsea’s website.
“We worked extremely hard in our first year to achieve something amazing, which I am very proud of. Now we must work even harder to stay at the top.”
No terms of the deal were disclosed, but English media reported the new contract improves the terms of the remaining two years left on the three-year deal Conte signed when he arrived at Stamford Bridge last year.
Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said the contract rewarded the “incredible success” Chelsea enjoyed in Conte’s first season.
“This new contract reflects our belief that he can continue to deliver results both domestically and as we return to European competition in the Champions League,” Granovskaia said.
“Since arriving in west London, the 47-year-old Italian’s passion, tactical acumen and winning mentality have endeared him to Chelsea supporters, and we look forward to further triumphs with Antonio at the helm.”
Conte’s coaching staff has been augmented by the arrival of two more Italians, with Paolo Vanoli joining as an assistant to the first-team head coach and Davide Mazzotta drafted in to specialize on player analysis.
The contract boost for Conte comes amid reports the Italian has grown frustrated with Chelsea’s inability to reinforce its title-winning squad.
Chelsea had long been linked with a move for Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, but the Belgium international opted for Manchester United over a return to the Blues.
Reported interest in Juventus duo Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro failed to come to fruition, although the Blues acquired midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Moncao and defender Antonio Rudger from Roma.
Chelsea’s top brass, meanwhile, were reportedly unhappy that Conte told striker Diego Costa he does not feature in his plans — potentially weakening the club’s bargaining position in any potential negotiations.
Costa has been linked with a move to China although his preference is a return to Atletico Madrid, despite the Spanish club being banned from signing new players until the new year.
There appears little way back for him at Chelsea — in an Instagram Live video on Sunday, he filmed himself partying in an Atletico shirt and told Chelsea teammate Cesc Fabregas to “give Conte a hug”.
Meanwhile, England goalkeeper Joe Hart has joined West Ham on a season-long