Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte wanted to sign Virgil van Dijk before the Netherlands international became the world’s most expensive defender by signing for Liverpool.
A reported £75million deal for the centre-back was confirmed last month and Van Dijk promptly headed the winner in Liverpool’s 2-1 FA Cup home victory over rivals Everton on his debut.
Conte described the 26-year-old as a “really good player” but stopped short of confirming his interest after Chelsea beat Southampton in the Premier League on December 16, when the player was an unused Saints substitute.
The Italian also urged the Blues’ top-six rivals to stop runaway league leaders Manchester City from signing Van Dijk, who had been close to joining Liverpool last June before the Anfield club had to apologise after being accused of making an illegal approach.
Reports have suggested Conte has been unhappy with Chelsea’s transfer business since winning last season’s Premier League title, with the club’s former striker Romelu Lukaku having opted to join Manchester United instead of returning to Stamford Bridge.
And although only City have a better defensive record than Chelsea’s 16 goals conceded this season, Conte accepted he was keen to add Van Dijk to his defensive options.
“This is football, this is life,” Conte said of missing out on him. “For sure he was our target but as you know, this is football.
“We can have a lot of targets but you must be able to reach those targets. The transfer market is not simple for any club.
“Liverpool bought Van Dijk to reinforce their defensive line – and I think Van Dijk is a top defender. And they spent €85million for this player.
“The same time, they sold very well – [Philippe] Coutinho – because when you sell a player for this amount of money, and then you have the rest of money to invest, to improve your team. But I think the transfer market is not simple, it’s not simple, especially if there is this amount of money.”
Conte’s side face Arsenal in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Wednesday, with speculation continuing to build regarding the future of the two teams’ respective star players in Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard.
Sanchez is out of contract at the end of the season, with Manchester City strongly linked with the Chile international, while Hazard is a reported long-term target for Real Madrid.
“For sure we are talking about an important player, about a good player,” Conte said when asked about the Arsenal forward. “But in my opinion I think Sanchez will finish the season at Arsenal. This is my opinion, I don’t know.
“I don’t know what will happen during the transfer market this month because every team can rely on the transfer market to improve, to become more strong, every time can use the transfer market to improve.
“I can speak about my player and as you know very well Eden is an important player for us. Eden is very happy to stay here, to work for this club, to work for us. And we want to try to give satisfaction to our fans. I’m sure about this. For sure, Eden is an important player for us.”