LONDON: Antonio Conte’s concern at Chelsea’s slow start to the transfer market will be partly assuaged by Antonio Rudiger’s having come through a medical to confirms his move to Stamford Bridge from Roma. The deal is worth a £30.7m fee plus £3.5m in add-ons.
But strengthening attack remains a concern after Manchester United snatched £75m Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea’s grasp when the Blues had expected the Belgium striker to return to the club who brought him to England in 2011 and then sold him off.
Chelsea’s anger at United’s ‘steal’ could complicate the prospects of Jose Mourinho & Co landing Serb midfielder Nemanja Matic from the champions.
The former Dortmund and Stuttgart defender followed up his Confederations Cup success by flying on to Los Angeles for a Hollywood holiday with Liverpool’s Emre Can, Manchester City’s Leroy Sane and Schalke’s Thilo Kehrer.
However Chelsea’s impatience to seal the deal quickly brought him flying back to Europe after problems in their pursuit of Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci.
The 24-year-old offers Conte both rejuvenation after the departure of 36-year-old John Terry to Aston Villa but greater tactical flexibility. Conte ‘won’ the Premier League after switching from a four-man to a three-man line. But he knows opponents will be ready to counter this approach and wants more options.
Cesar Azpilicueta, who played every minute of every league and FA Cup match last season, could revert from centre-back to right wing back with Rudiger slotting in alongside Gary Cahill and David Luiz in the centre of defence.
Chelsea’s only previous signing had been the free-transfer arrival of reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero from Manchester City.
After securing Rudiger they intend to complete the purchase of Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko while turning their attentions back to attack. The most likely signing is Swansea’s Fernando Llorente though they have also been linked with Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata. It is even possible that Conte will make his peace with Diego Costa for at least one more season.
The Spanish Brazilian wants to return to Spain with Atletico de Madrid but the Spanish club are serving a transfer ban so the player may be prepared to wait one more year.
Chelsea are reported to have lost out on Lukaku after refusing to pay an agent’s fee of £12m to middle man Mino Raiola.
Lukaku, on holiday in Los Angeles with friends including United’s Paul Pogba, did not have to “think twice” about moving to United. He said: “It’s a club that is hungry to win the league again, to be dominant in the world again. It’s the sort of opportunity I’ve always wanted since I was a child.”
“When they came calling I didn’t have to think twice, so I’m really delighted to be part of history. Who would say no to the biggest club in the world? The best stadium in England, the best fans. I mean, it’s the perfect opportunity.
“I always said I wanted to play for a team that’s challenging for every trophy that there is there. I think Manchester United at the minute wants to be the dominant team, the dominant force. Now it’s time to work hard, work harder than I ever did before and I’m willing to do it.”
Lukaku has been celebrating so much he landed in trouble with Los Angeles police and was arrested after a noise complaint. He is due to appear in court there on October 2 to answer a ‘misdemeanour citation’ from a house party.
Changes behind the scenes at United have seen former Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia has been appointed as their new under-23 manager. Sbragia, who left the Scottish FA last month, spent three years in charge of the reserves at United from 2002.
Another backroom appointment is at Arsenal where Per Mertesacker will take over as academy manager next year. Arsenal have said the 32-year-old club captain will remain in the first-team squad this season “while developing his knowledge and understanding of the academy.”
Manager Arsene Wenger is a great fan of Mertesacker who made an extraordinary first start of last season in the FA Cup Final victory over Chelsea.
Wenger said: “Per is an exceptional character who is a great example for young players and will be an inspirational figure for everyone connected with the academy.”