Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea hits new snag as another exit route for Conte closes after surprise news

Chelsea are running out of potential suitors to Antonio Conte after it was announced that Spain boss Julen Lopetegui would take over at Real Madrid after the World Cup 2018.

A goalkeeper in his playing days, the 51-year-old was a member of the Los Blancos squad that won LaLiga in 1990. He had previously been first choice for their B team and later joined Barcelona before ending his career with a spell at Rayo Vallecano between 1997 and 2002.

Fans of the Blues had hoped that Madrid might make a move for Conte following the departure of Zinedine Zidane as manager. The Italian would otherwise be owed a £9million pay out if Chelsea were to sack him to make way for Maurizio Sarri, the leading candidate to replace him.

Roman Abramovich and the club hierarchy would rather not have to spend such a high amount to dispose of their head coach, especially given the money required to land the former Napoli trainer.

The Italian club still have Sarri on their pay roll and under contract. Chelsea had the option to pay a £7million release fee last month only to allow the clause to expire. They now have to negotiate directly with the Serie A runners up.

Due to these complications, other names have entered the frame, most notably Laurent Blanc, the former manager of Bordeaux, France and Paris Saint-Germain.

Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic has also been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge. He was a Chelsea player between 2000 and 2002 and has excelled in the Championship, guiding Watford and the Cottagers to the Premier League.

However, Sarri’s work in Italy has seen the Italian move to the front of the queue for his many admirers among supporters for the 2017 English champions.

During his reign at Napoli he built an exciting, attacking team that relied on his work on the training ground to coach as much as he could out of the talent available to him.

Lopetegui has made a similar impact for Spain, refreshing their squad and bringing through a new generation of talent to put the winners of the 2010 World Cup among the favourites for success in Russia this summer.

Since stepping away from Real Madrid, Zidane has become a name associated with a potential move to Chelsea, although the links to the Frenchman have been tenuous and circumstantial at best.

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