Conte reveals how close Chelsea came to signing Van Dijk and lifts lid on Roman Abramovich's behind-the-scenes role

ANTONIO CONTE has revealed how close he came to nearly signing Virgil Van Dijk before his second season in charge at Chelsea.

He claims that he asked the club to sign Van Dijk, 29, after he had just won the the Premier League in his first season at the helm.

But the Blues didn't manage to sign the defender, who went on to join Liverpool for £75million, a world record fee for a defender at the time.

Conte, 51, believes the club's failure to sign the Dutchman, along with Romel Lukaku ultimately cost him his job six months later.

In an interview with The Telegraph he said: "I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league.

"One player was Romelu Lukaku, the second player was Virgil van Dijk, and these two players were very, very close.

"We were in contact every day and I always said that with these two players we would improve my team by 30 per cent.

"I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years.

"It was a pity that it didn't happen and Romelu is showing with Inter that my idea was right and also Van Dijk has shown with Liverpool that my idea was right for the club."

Lukaku, 27, went on to join Manchester United before moving on to join Inter Milan, where he was later joined by Conte.

The striker has blossomed under Conte and the pair have built a good relationship in Italy.

Speaking on Lukaku he said: "Romelu is an incredible player and he has a lot of space for improvement.

"In one year at Inter, he had a lot of improvement because he wants to learn and I think I am a teacher.

"But he can continue to improve to become one of the best strikers in the world."

In his interview with The Telegraph, he also touched on his relationship with chairman Roman Abramovich and shed some light on what he does at the club.

He added: "Many times he came to the training ground to meet me and I remember he wanted to watch the video about our game and about our preparation – the way we wanted to face the opponent.

" I think in my career, he was one of the most passionate men about football and I keep good memories about him and about the club, an important club in the world."

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