Antonio Conte is pushing for Chelsea to secure Leonardo Bonucci or the unsettled Southampton centre-half Virgil van Dijk to boost the title winners’ defensive strength before next season’s return to the Champions League.
Securing the arrival of either player would be far from straightforward, despite reports from Italy that Bonucci, whom Conte targeted last summer, could be permitted to leave Juventus. The Italy centre-half would cost in excess of £50m along with a hefty long-term contract and given that he is 30, his signing would represent a shift in Chelsea’s transfer policy if the board sanctioned a move.
The Premier League club offer only one-year contract extensions to players in their 30s – a long-established policy that was not bent even for stalwarts of the calibre of Frank Lampard and John Terry – and would need to be persuaded in the logic of spending a club record fee on a player who entered his fourth decade early last month.
Van Dijk, at 25, would represent a signing more in keeping with Chelsea’s strategy but Southampton’s intransigence in dealing with Liverpool over the Holland defender suggests the London club’s negotiating skills may be severely tested. The Merseyside club apologised to Southampton this month “for any misunderstanding” regarding their interest in the player and the Premier League is awaiting observations from St Mary’s and Anfield before determining whether it should open a tapping-up investigation into Liverpool’s conduct.
Southampton, who are expected to appoint the former Alavés manager Mauricio Pellegrino as Claude Puel’s successor, are intent on resisting interest in Van Dijk, although the player may yet agitate to leave. Chelsea’s interest in the centre-back is long established and there had been a level of surprise at Stamford Bridge when he apparently made so clear his priority was to move to Liverpool. Yet they are unlikely to offer more than £50m for a player with only 12 caps, albeit Van Dijk’s compatriot Nathan Aké could potentially be part of any move.
Chelsea are hopeful of securing Alex Sandro from Juventus, with the Italian club confirming they have received a substantial offer for the Brazilian wing-back from an unspecified club. Tiemoué Bakayoko should join from Monaco in a deal worth up to £40m and interest is retained in the Everton, forward Romelu Lukaku, who could cost a world record fee.
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