The relationship between Conte and Chelsea’s Russian owner has been put under major strain, with Abramovich increasingly irritated with his manager, who has complained since the summer that he has not been provided with the players he wants and has no control over transfers.
Conte repeated his claims on Wednesday after his side were beaten by Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at the Emirates Stadium.
A source close to Abramovich said last night: “Sure Roman is angry. He is not happy.”
Abramovich and the Chelsea hierarchy fully expect Conte to walk away at the end of this campaign. But with the Italian’s volatile nature and Abramovich’s famed lack of patience, things could unravel sooner.
Defeat at home to struggling Newcastle in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday could bring matters to a head. With the title now Manchester City’s to lose, all Chelsea would be left with is a daunting Champions League last-16 clash with in-form Barcelona next month and a top-four place to fight for. They have won only one of their last seven games in all competitions.
Paris St Germain are watching Conte’s situation carefully, and with their coach Unai Emery expected to depart at the end of this season, they have already sounded out the Italian’s intermediaries.
Conte’s other favoured option is to return to Italy to take over the national job, vacant since Gian Piero Ventura was sacked after failing to get them to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.
Senior figures at the Italian Football Federation are keen to tempt Conte back to the job. He took Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 and was popular with players and fans.
Conte would have to take a wage drop from his current £9.6million a year salary to around £4.5m – but he would, according to friends, prefer that option rather than going back to an Italian club side like his former outfit Juventus.
Some in the Chelsea hierarchy feel that with nearly £190m spent on new players last summer, and £15m already splashed out in this window on Ross Barkley, with another £52m likely to be outgoing with Emerson Palmieri on the way and Edin Dzeko’s arrival imminent this week, adequate funds have been made available to Conte.
And Conte has apparently been involved in transfer policy, despite his claims to the contrary over the past few months. Insiders at Stamford Bridge insist they work off the lists of names he provides. Certainly, some of the new faces have been players he knows well, like Alvaro Morata and Davide Zappacosta.
Former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has been considered by Chelsea as a potential replacement for Conte, the Spaniard out of a job after leaving the Nou Camp last year having won two La Liga titles and the Champions League.
Former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is also available. The Italian took the club to the title in 2010 before being axed a year later and is out of work after leaving Bayern Munich.