Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea in £50m Romelu Lukaku U-turn

By Mark Ogden

Antonio Conte wants Chelsea to re-sign Romelu Lukaku after identifying the Everton forward as a key target for his summer rebuilding programme at Stamford Bridge.

Conte, who will leave his post as Italy coach at the end of Euro 2016, was confirmed yesterday as the permanent successor to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and the former Juventus coach has already drawn up plans for additions to his squad. The Italian has pinpointed Lukaku as the proven goalscorer required to challenge Diego Costa.

Everton are likely to fight any efforts to prise Lukaku away, but an offer in excess of £50m would leave the Merseyside club battling to hold onto the player.

Any deal would mark an embarrassing u-turn by Chelsea, who sold the Belgium forward to Everton for £28m in July 2014 when Mourinho decided he could leave.

After being signed by Chelsea from Anderlecht for £18m in 2011, Lukaku started just one Premier League game before being loaned to West Bromwich Albion and Everton prior to his permanent move to Goodison Park, but Chelsea are prepared to pursue the 22-year-old, with Conte keen to reduce the average age of the squad.

Lukaku has scored 28 goals in 66 Premier League games for Everton and with Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato and Loïc Rémy all expected to leave Chelsea this summer, Conte has informed the club that he will need to sign at least two new forwards

With Costa’s future also in doubt due to ongoing interest from his former club Atletico Madrid, Conte could arrive at Chelsea having to rebuild his entire attacking department.

Chelsea are set to face competition from Manchester United and Juventus for Lukaku, who has made no secret of his desire to play for an established powerhouse.

On his appointment, Conte said: “I am happy we have made the announcement now so everything is clear and we can end the speculation.

“I will continue to focus on my job with the Italian national team and will reserve speaking about Chelsea again until after the Euros.”

Despite not taking up the job until after Euro 2016, Conte will now have the opportunity to shape Chelsea’s strategy ahead of his first game, against Liverpool in California in the International Champions Cup on July 27.

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said: “We are pleased to have recruited one of the most highly regarded managers in world football and we are equally pleased to do so before the end of the current season. This aids our future planning.”

One of Conte’s first tasks will be to decide the future of the club captain John Terry.

The 35-year-old announced in January that he would be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season, but the club has insisted a new contract offer could be forthcoming.

Chelsea’s players, some of whom reportedly want to leave given the absence of Champions League football next term, may also be appeased by the end of the uncertainty over the identity of their manager.

Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge came to an end in December after a miserable start to the season and a “palpable discord” with his players, according to Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo.

Guus Hiddink has restored stability in his second spell as interim manager — the Blues are 10th in the Premier League with seven games to play — but Chelsea face a rare season without a trophy and will not be in the Champions League next season.

Conte guided Juventus to three successive Serie A titles before taking over the Azzurri.

He becomes the fifth Italian manager of Chelsea, following Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo.

Who should boss Conte keep or sell at Chelsea?

Keep: Thibaut Courtois, Asmir Begovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel, Eden Hazard, Willian, Bertrand Traore, Kenedy, Diego Costa (14). The core of the 2014/15 title-winning squad should be retained, but many need a period of introspection as to how and why it went wrong this season.

Discard: John Terry, Marco Amelia, Loic Remy, Alexandre Pato, Radamel Falcao, Papy Djilobodji (six). Terry has already announced he is leaving and needs to be replaced at some point, so unless Conte is desperate to keep him, the captain should be allowed to go. Remy has found chances limited, while Pato, Falcao, Amelia and Djilobodji have barely mustered a few minutes of action between them.

Give time: Oscar, Pedro, Baba Rahman, Matt Miazga, Ola Aina, Juan Cuadrado, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (seven). Oscar is brilliant when he wishes to be, but wildly inconsistent. He may he need a rest rather than a change. Cuadrado’s move to London failed, but he has shown enough with Juventus that he has the talent to impress.

On loan players to bring in: Nathan Ake, Andreas Christensen, Izzy Brown, Dominic Solanke, Lewis Baker, Victor Moses (six). Moses has performed well at West Ham, as has Ake at Watford. Christensen, Brown, Solanke and Baker have shown considerable promise and must be given a chance.

Sign: If only it were so simple. The spine of the team needs reinforcing. It is unrealistic to expect the likes of Paul Pogba and John Stones to join Chelsea without Champions League football.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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