Former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has revealed that the club were “very close” to signing Romelu Lukaku and Virgil van Dijk in the summer of 2017.
The request came after Conte had led the Blues to the Premier League title in his debut season. As for the players in question, Lukaku opted to move from Everton to Manchester United instead of Stamford Bridge.
Van Dijk, meanwhile, would agree to join Liverpool in December that year, officially joining in January.
But Conte insisted in his candid interview that he would have taken Chelsea to new heights with both players.
“I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league,” the Italian said. “One player was Romelu Lukaku, the second player was Virgil van Dijk and these two players were very, very close.
“We were in contact every day and I always said that with these two players we would improve my team by 30 per cent.”
Chelsea ended up sacking Conte at the end of the 2017/18 campaign, in which the Blues finished fifth. Indeed, the manager insisted that his failed double coup played a part in the board’s decision to let him go.
“I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years,” he said.
“It was a pity that it didn’t happen and Romelu is showing with my Inter that my idea was right and also Van Dijk has shown with Liverpool that my idea was right for the club.”
Van Dijk, Lukaku enjoy great success
Skip forward over three years and Van Dijk has become a Premier League and Champions League winner with Liverpool. What’s more, he won FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award in 2019 for his impact on Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Lukaku, meanwhile, left United last summer after falling out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But he has become one of Europe’s best strikers since his move to Italy.
As such, Conte insists that the Belgian – who he now coaches – could have followed a “different story”.
“For sure, it would have been a different story if I was the coach of Romelu,” Conte said. “Romelu is an incredible player and he has a lot of space for improvement because he wants to learn and I think I am a teacher.
“But he can continue to improve to become one of the best strikers in the world.”