Antonio Conte admits Chelsea failed in effort to sign Virgil van Dijk
LONDON -- Antonio Conte has confirmed that he wanted to bring Virgil van Dijk to Chelsea prior to Liverpool agreeing to make the Dutchman the world's most expensive defender in a £75 million deal with Southampton.
Liverpool announced the signing of Van Dijk shortly before the start of the January transfer window, stealing a march on Manchester City and Chelsea, who had both been widely linked with a move for the 26-year-old last summer and in the winter market.
Last month Conte warned that City's rivals could not allow the runaway Premier League leaders to further bolster their squad by signing Van Dijk, but speaking on Friday the former Italy manager admitted that he would have rather the defender ended up at Stamford Bridge than Anfield.
"This is football, this is life," Conte said when asked about Chelsea missing out on Van Dijk. "For sure it was our target [to sign him], but as you know very well, football is this. You can have a lot of targets but then you must be able to reach them. The transfer market is not simple for any club."
Conte grew increasingly frustrated last summer with Chelsea's failure to secure several of his priority targets, with Manchester United hijacking the Blues' proposed move for Romelu Lukaku and Juventus refusing to lower their asking price for Alex Sandro.
Chelsea announced a £69.2m profit on player trading in their latest annual financial results earlier this month -- largely underpinned by the £60m sale of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG in January 2017 -- and have been looking to balance signings with departures for several years.
Van Dijk made it clear that Liverpool was his preferred destination last summer, when the Merseyside club were the subject of an official complaint from Southampton for tapping up and temporarily forced to withdraw their interest.
Conte's disappointment at missing out on the Dutchman will be tempered by the breakthrough form of Andreas Christensen, who has displaced David Luiz in the centre of the Chelsea defence since November and signed a new long-term contract on Tuesday that will keep him at Stamford Bridge until June 2022.
Christensen is expected to keep his place ahead of the fit-again Luiz when Chelsea host Arsenal in the semifinal of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. It is the second of three such meetings between the two teams in the space of a month, but Conte does not believe that this complicates his preparation.
"I think it's difficult to prepare this game because [the last time] we played for a place in the top four," he added. "Now we are playing against a big team to reach a final in a good competition.
"These are two massive games and usually when you have these type of games you lose a lot of energy, physical energy, mental energy. Then you have to play in the league, and the league is very important. This is my worry, not playing three times against Arsenal."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.