Antonio Conte is closing in on becoming Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor at Chelsea, with the Italy coach confident that he has seen off rivals Diego Simeone and Massimiliano Allegri to take charge at Stamford Bridge.
Although reports in Italy on Monday which suggested that the 46-year-old had agreed a deal in principle to become Chelsea manager are understood to be premature, the former Juventus coach is now the favoured candidate in the eyes of owner Roman Abramovich.
The Independent revealed last December that Conte had become the leading candidate to replace Mourinho in the event of the Portuguese being sacked by the club as a result of this season’s disastrous first half of the campaign. And although Guus Hiddink returned to Stamford Bridge as interim manager in the wake of Mourinho’s dismissal two months ago, the Dutchman is not a contender to take the job permanently, despite his success in reviving the team’s fortunes since his appointment.
Conte’s success with Juventus, who he guided to three successive Serie A titles before becoming Italy coach following the 2014 World Cup, has convinced Abramovich that the Italian is capable of restoring Chelsea to the top four next season and overseeing a title challenge.
With his contract with Italy due to expire at the end of Euro 2016, Conte has made no secret of his desire to work in the Premier League and he has already started to learn English in order to enhance his prospects of achieving success in this country.
Abramovich had been prepared to mount a charm offensive to lure Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munich following Mourinho’s departure, but with the former Barcelona coach now committed to a three-year contract at Manchester City from this summer, the Russian has turned to Conte ahead of Simeone, Allegri and former Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Atletico Madrid coach Simeone had been the long-term frontrunner, but the Argentine is likely to remain in Spain for another year at least, while Sampaoli’s lack of top-level experience in Europe has counted against his prospects.
And although Allegri has become a sought-after coach with him having extended the success started by Conte at Juventus, the Italian champions are confident that the former Milan coach will commit to a new deal in Turin.
Giuseppe Marotta, the Juventus sporting director, said: “The conditions for Allegri’s contract renewal are all there. The cycle has just started with him and I believe we can continue with him. On top of that, finding a club better than Juventus isn’t easy. I think that he can still get great pleasure from this team, thus there is no Allegri problem.”