Incoming Chelsea boss Antonio Conte faces a mammoth rebuilding task if he wants to fire the Blues back to the Premier League summit in 2016/17. A world-class central midfielder that a team could be built around will undoubtedly be one of the top items on the Italian’s summer shopping list, and AS Roma’s Radja Nainggolan is one of the names being strongly linked with a move to Stamford Bridge. Let’s take a closer look at the proposal.
The 2015/16 season could have hardly gone worse for Chelsea; their Premier League title-defence imploded before it even began whilst in-house arguments between Jose Mourinho and Eva Caneiro eventually saw both parties leave their posts. Things have improved under interim boss Guus Hiddink but the lack of trophies, coupled with no Champions League football, gives a clear indication of the job that Conte faces. After all, owner Roman Abramovich is hardly silent about his desire for instant success.
Conte will need to plug a number of gaps within the Blues squad, but a leader in the middle of the park is crucial. After a fantastic 2014/15, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic have stagnated somewhat in West London. In truth, the Blues are still searching for the true successor to Frank Lampard’s mantle, both in terms of quality at both ends of the pitch and ability to strut around the middle of the park with authority; that need will be even greater should John Terry leave. Regardless of whether Conte adopts his preferred 3-5-2 or settles for a trusted Premier League formation, Nainggolan appears to be the perfect candidate.
The incoming manager’s knowledge of his homeland makes him odds-on to target Serie A throughout his opening transfer window. That’s not to say Conte won’t be willing to cast his nets further afield. Nevertheless, Roma’s Belgian international has been touted as a potential arrival for an extended period while a transfer index rating of 4.7 confirms that this is one of the hottest stories currently circulating the rumour mill.
In fact, some sources suggest that a deal in the region of £30m is all but sealed. If this is to be the case, the Blues will, on paper at least, be inheriting a truly talented superstar. The 18-cap Belgian international has been on the radars of top clubs for several years, and competition was fierce ahead of a permanent switch from Cagliari to the Italian capital in 2014. Since then, he has grown from promising talent to finished article. While Giallorossi has been kind to the 27-year-old, now could be the perfect time to trade the Stadio Olimpico for the bright lights of the world’s most lucrative league.
Chelsea would certainly be keen; the Blues need someone that can perform from the off. The club’s multi-title winning academy is blessed with talent for future years and, given time, Conte could slowly incorporate a new generation of superstars. In order to start that dynasty, though, 2016/17 needs to be a successful campaign. As far as central midfielders are concerned, Nainggolan may be the best player that they can attract. And at those reported fees, Roma would find it very difficult to turn, especially as they only paid €3m just two years ago.
The Antwerp-born all-rounder has shown plenty to suggest that he could provide Conte with everything he’s after. A return of five Serie A goals this season matches the combined Premier League total of Fabregas and Matic while his defensive contribution would make him a perfect fit for the physical demands of English football. If Conte is planning to usher in a new philosophy, Nainggolan’s quality and authority in possession could become a key asset too. The Roma No.4’s recycling of possession and dictation of play would suggest that Conte wants to dominate opponents without giving away too much in those crucial defensive areas. Assuming the Blues do find a route back into the Champions League, those attributes would be well suited to European competition too.
Right now, Chelsea are in desperate need of industrious workers and the Belgian could be a fantastic addition, especially if Fabregas or other current stars are not deemed to be up for the challenge. While he comes from Serie A, the Roma man boasts the right skills set for life in England. Perhaps more importantly, he seems tailor made for the Conte style of play. Whilst the current Azzurri boss will need to adapt his ideologies, there is no doubt that the Italian mindset will influence those decisions.
It’s an exciting, albeit challenging, time at Stamford Bridge and Conte will ring wholesale changes. Finding a player to boss the central areas is essential, but their current plight will rule out stars from the very biggest clubs. Without being able to break the Juventus stranglehold in Italy, Nainggolan has played a major role in taking Roma back to the forefront of Italian football, and Blues fans will be hopeful that he can replicate that impact in West London next term.
The signing would signal a slight risk, but right now it has to be one worth taking. It appears that Conte is willing to take that gamble too by making the Roma star his first major signing. Follow the latest developments with our transfer index to see if and when a deal is finalised.