London, August 4 (AFP): Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has told Barcelona there is no chance he will allow Eden Hazard to join the Spanish club as a replacement for Neymar.
Neymar’s exit leaves a vacancy in the Barca attack that reports have suggested they would like to fill with Chelsea forward Hazard.
Asked on Friday how he would respond to a big-money offer for Hazard, Conte told reporters: “We are trying to buy the players, not to sell them. Otherwise the number is always less and we are in trouble.
“These are rumours. Eden is very happy to stay with us and to start the new season.”
Hazard is currently sidelined while he recovers from ankle surgery and the Belgian, who was injured on international duty at the end of last season, will miss the start of Chelsea’s Premier League title defence.
Hazard’s absence and Diego Costa’s exile after his fall out with Conte leaves the Italian short of attacking options ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield clash with Arsenal.
Quizzed on whether he had expressed an interest in Neymar before PSG swooped, Conte said: “No, not true.
“It’s an impressive amount of money, £200 million. If PSG is able to do this why not?
“For a normal player now you must be ready to spend £40 million, £50 million. If you want to buy a top player, you must be ready to spend this money.”
While Conte was never in the hunt for Neymar, he has been keen to add several new signings ahead of a twin assault on the Premier League and Champions League.
Having won the English title while absent from European football last season, Conte knows the demands on his squad will be much greater this term.
So far, he has landed former Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata, midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco and defender Antonio Rudiger from Roma.
But Conte has also sold Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, while Bakayoko will miss the start of the season with a knee injury.
– Frustration –
Expressing signs of frustration when asked about the club’s transfer activity, Conte made it clear he wants more new faces.
“Now for us it is very important to try to improve our squad from the numerical aspect,” he said.
“I think only one player is not enough to improve our team. We have a small squad.
“We need more players, not of the top level like Neymar, but to improve our squad and our quality. Now we have few players.”
Given the significant improvements made by Manchester City and Manchester United, plus club record signings by Arsenal and Liverpool, Conte’s concern is that Chelsea are standing still at a time when their rivals are progressing.
After Chelsea and Leicester City sacked Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri less than a year after winning the title, the Chelsea boss is determined to avoid a second-season flop, starting against the Gunners on Sunday.
“It’s normal to be a bit afraid to repeat the bad season from two years ago,” he said.
“For sure we have to work very hard, harder than last season, to continue to improve every player.
“We know Arsenal is a strong team. We want to try to start the season with a win. It’s the first trophy of the season.”