Antonio Conte presided over Chelsea’s return for pre-season training on Monday, despite persistent speculation over the Italian’s future.
Conte was widely expected to be fired at the end of last term, in which the Blues surrendered their Premier League title with a limp fifth-place finish, although they did win the FA Cup.
Maurizio Sarri was said to have been lined up to take over at Stamford Bridge and it appeared to be a matter of time before a deal was confirmed when Napoli sacked him in May for taking too long to decide on his future.
But a contractual dispute with Napoli has prevented Chelsea from snapping Sarri up, leaving Conte at the helm after he regularly challenged the hierarchy’s authority with comments about their transfer policy in the most recent campaign.
And the former Juventus boss was present at Cobham on Monday as Chelsea got their preparations for the 2018-19 season underway.
An agreement in principle is in place to bring Sarri to Stamford Bridge, but the Blues still need to work with Napoli to secure his release from his contract. The Serie A side’s president Aurelio De Laurentiis has been holding out for the £7 million (€8m/$9.2m) release clause, with lawyers continuing to work to secure the move that both the London club and Sarri want.
For their part, Napoli have already replaced Sarri with former Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti, who started the new role on July 1.
As late as Sunday evening, the Chelsea players did not know who was poised to take their training, while the confusion has led to knock-on effects for many in the transfer window.
David Luiz is among those players who would push to depart should the ex-Italy boss remain in charge of the side, but if Sarri were to take over then the scenario could be very different.
Nevertheless, the Stamford Bridge side are closing in on deals to sign Russia World Cup star Aleksandr Golovin and Juventus player Daniele Rugani.
Conte, who is now into the final year of his contract but who could cost up to £9 million to remove, also spent much of the weekend at Chelsea’s base, where the squad’s fitness levels will be assessed over the next couple of days.