Despite recent denials through official statements, Tianjin Quanjian are still expected to sign Diego Costa this summer, enticing him to move to China with the football world’s highest salary and enticing Chelsea to sell with a transfer fee upwards of €90m.
In anticipation of that eventuality, Chelsea have been steadily linked with two strikers above all others, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata, with the former supposedly the primary target of technical director Michael Emenalo and the latter the primary target of head coach Antonio Conte. Emenalo looked to be winning that debate — helped along by Lukaku’s rejection of Everton’s new contract offer — and now, according to the Daily Mail, Conte has fallen in line as well.
The Mail’s report claims that “Conte has told the club's owners he wants them to make a record move for Everton striker Romelu Lukaku his priority this summer”. The record refers to Chelsea’s transfer record, which happens to concern another striker brought to the Bridge from Merseyside. Presumably Lukaku would find the back of the net a few more times than Torres did.
Acquiring a Costa replacement is just the first step of what should be a summer of strengthening and improving and creating and even “more competitive” Chelsea ahead of the Blues’ return to the Champions League next season.
“Next season we play the Champions League, and it's great for us. A team like Chelsea, the Champions League must be their home, and they must try to play in it every season. It won't be easy in England, because I think in this league you have six teams very strong, very strong.”
“It won't be easy, the present and the future, to play the Champions League. But for sure now it's important to finish this season and then find the right solution, to prepare our team to face next season.”
But don’t expect Conte to blab about any specifics anytime soon.
“I like to speak with my club about this and to tell my opinion to my club. It's not important to tell my opinion through the papers.”
“The first step must be to speak with the club and tell my opinion about this season and the next season, and to find the right solution to be more competitive. Then to face the situation, to sell or to buy, new players.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Mail
In addition to Lukaku, the Mail brings up names such as Virgil van Dijk, Leonardo Bonucci, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Marco Verratti as Chelsea targets. But other than Van Dijk, the others have long been filed under unlikely, unreasonable, and unavailable.
Either way, it should be a busy, intriguing, important summer.