Antonio Conte says it is important to have players who have “the pleasure to stay at Chelsea” as talk persists over the futures of a number of first-team stars.
The Blues’ second Premier League title triumph in three seasons has done little to quash speculation linking Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas with moves away.
Costa has been heavily tipped to move to the lucrative Chinese Super League with Tianjin Quanjian, while Fabregas is a reported target for AC Milan’s new wealthy owners.
Hazard and Courtois, meanwhile, have long been linked with La Liga leaders Real Madrid, with Chelsea having reportedly offered their star winger a contract of £300,000 per week to convince him to stay.
Conte is aware of the need for a bigger squad for next season, with Chelsea returning to the Champions League, but he is not prepared to keep players who wish to leave.
“First of all the players must have pleasure to stay at Chelsea,” he told a news conference. “This is the first important thing. For me, this is very important, that every single player who wants to stay at Chelsea has the pleasure to stay at Chelsea.
“Next season, we know we must improve a lot to have a bigger squad, but it’s not only my thought. That’s the thought of the whole club. Next season we have to play in the Champions League again and we start the season as champions, so for sure it will be a difficult season. But, if we work in the right way, we’ll be ready to face this situation.”
Conte has himself been linked with a return to Italy, with Inter reportedly prepared to make him the world’s highest-paid head coach, but his focus is solely on Sunderland in their final Premier League match on Sunday and the FA Cup final with Arsenal to come.
“First of all, it’s important to repeat that I have two years’ contract to go,” he said. “It’s important to underline this. Then I always told you, for me and for the players, it’s very important to finish the season and be focused, be concentrated on our targets.
“Now we’ve reached one really important target for us: to win the league. Now, on Sunday, we have two targets: to try to win the 30th game in this league, which is an unbelievable target for us, and then to help Thibaut [Courtois] to win the Golden Glove.
“And also to prepare the right way for the final of the FA Cup against Arsenal. Then I think every single player, the coach and the manager, we have the time to discuss with our club.”
Conte is relishing the chance to celebrate Chelsea’s title win at Stamford Bridge and feels it will be all-the-sweeter given that few backed him to succeed in his first season in England.
“Every season, it’s very difficult to win the title in England,” he said. “Don’t forget that to win the title this season for us was incredible. Not one person trusts in us, in Chelsea, to win the title.
“I can’t wait to do this [celebrate] with my players, with the fans. Also to celebrate John [Terry], it will be very important. And also to celebrate [coach] Steve Holland, who is leaving after eight years. He is an important man in this club. He won a lot. He worked a lot, with many coaches, and I have the pleasure to work with him in this season.”