Chelsea’s rebuild: Hazard and Courtois to follow Conte out of the Bridge?
The Blues’s player and coaching teams set for major overhaul despite FA Cup final victory
The start of a new chapter or the end of an era? Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat of Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup final is expected to bring down the curtain on Antonio Conte’s stint in charge of the Blues, and there are indications the squad may also be facing a shake-up this summer following what has been a disappointing season overall.
Beaten by Barcelona in the last-16 of the Champions League, Chelsea won’t have the chance to compete in Europe’s showpiece tournament until 2019 at the earliest.
Having finished fifth in the Premier League, Conte must be painfully aware that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is no football romantic - and that for the Russian, what matters in success in the two competitions ending in “League”.
Asked about his future in the aftermath of the Wembley win, Conte said: “The club knows me very well. If they want to continue to work with me, they know me. I can’t change. My past is very clear as a player and manager. You can tell what you want, but I’m a serial winner.”
The Italian’s defiance might prove his downfall at Stamford Bridge if Abramovich decides that Conte has become too cussed for his liking. The pair have allegedly clashed over the club's transfer policy, and the drawn-out departure of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid last summer portrayed everyone at Chelsea in a bad light.
Costa’s replacement, Alvaro Morata, has not lived up to his £65m price tag, and Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta and Ross Barkley have also flopped since arriving in the past year.
Real ready to move for Courtois
They’re likely to be moved on in the coming months, but the Blues don’t have the fees needed to overhaul their squad in the manner that will allow them to challenge Manchester City next season.
One possible solution is the sale of Thibaut Courtois, with Real Madrid reportedly ready to offer big bucks for the Belgian goalkeeper.
The 26-year-old fuelled the speculation on Saturday, when he was asked whether he would be back at the Bridge in August.
“We’ll see after the World Cup whether I am a Chelsea player for next year,” replied Courtois. “You see how Manchester City and Manchester United are spending and working. If we want to aim for the top, we should do the same… we’ll see what’s going on and I am sure the board will do what needs to be done.”
To spend, the Blues need to sell, and former assistant manager Steve Clarke believes the side may be forced to put Saturday’s goalscorer on the market. “To help fund other transfers for the club this summer, maybe they do have to sell Hazard,” said Clarke, who also made more than 300 appearances for the Blues.
“The club is the most important thing. They have to rebuild that squad a little bit. It wasn’t good enough to be in the top four. They have got a lot of work to do over the summer.”
The Daily Star reports that Manchester City are interested in Hazard and are “plotting” to make a £100m move for the Belgian star. City boss Pep Guardiola has made Hazard his “No.1 transfer target this summer”.
Abramovich visa row
The first priority for Abramovich, however, will be to obtain a new visa so that he can personally oversee the changes to his squad. According to reports, the entrepreneurial visa to the UK that he holds has expired and is taking longer than expected to renew - hence his absence from Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Although it is believed the new visa will be forthcoming, The Times says that “the failure of the authorities to process the application of such a high-profile ally of President Putin will be seen by Moscow as another snub” in the ongoing row between Britain and Russia following the poisoning of former Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.