Antonio Conte’s 1st demand at Napoli was keeping Kvaratskhelia. His next move might be for Lukaku

ROME (AP) — Antonio Conte is embracing the rebuilding task he faces at Napoli. As long as the results come quickly.

Returning to Italy after leaving Tottenham in a fit of frustration last year, the demanding Conte inherits a Napoli team that missed out on Europe last season with a 10th-place finish, coming a year after the southern squad won its first Serie A title since the days when Diego Maradona played for the club.

Napoli finished a whopping 41 points behind champion Inter Milan last month.

“We can’t put our head in the sand,” Conte said about last season’s debacle, which saw three different coaches in charge at Napoli. “We can’t compete with the usual leaders in terms of salaries. But we can compete in terms of building a solid foundation and work ethic. Under that aspect, nobody should beat us.

“We’ve got to kill everyone ahead of us with fair play. If we can do all that then we can reduce the gap. Because I don’t have much patience to be a supporting actor,” Conte added during his presentation Wednesday after signing a three-year contract.


The first part of Conte’s plan involves keeping Napoli’s jewels, such as dribbling wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who has been targeted by Paris Saint-Germain as a replacement for Kylian Mbappe. And captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who was discouraged by last season.

Keeping Kvaratskhelia and Di Lorenzo was the first item that Conte discussed with Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

“Before talking about contractual and other aspects I wanted only one reassurance from the president, which is that I would decide who will stay and who will go,” Conte said. “I was very categorical. Because if we talk about revenge and rebuilding and then we let our best players go, then it’s all counterproductive.”


Conte also hinted that he might be interested in Romelu Lukaku as a replacement for center forward Victor Osimhen, who told the club he was leaving before Conte’s arrival.

After his latest loan spell at Roma ended, Lukaku is back at Chelsea but destined to be loaned again. He had his two most productive seasons under Conte at Inter.

“Romelu and Osimhen are both excellent players,” Conte said. “You always hope to have them in your team and never as opponents.”


Napoli’s run of playing in Europe for 14 straight seasons has ended, which will allow Conte to focus on Serie A.

“Naples is a passionate town,” Conte said. “Our goal is to increase this passion. There’s a big fire here and we want to make it bigger. I was born in Lecce so I’m from the south and I know what it means to live in the south and I know what Napoli means for southern soccer. I’m honored to come home with a team that represents the south.”


Conte’s career has been full of quick turnarounds. He took over a seventh-place Juventus team and won three straight Serie A titles. Chelsea was coming off a 10th-place finish when he lifted the Premier League. And Inter hadn’t won Serie A in more than a decade when he again won the Italian league.

“What I can’t promise is the title because only one team wins. What I can promise is that we start a path toward being competitive for the title,” Conte said. “I’m not the type to sell fried air. I’m someone who likes doing and I’m not very patient. We need to shut up and pedal and make up for what we lost last season.”


AP soccer:

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