ANTONIO CONTE has emerged as the latest contender to land the biggest job in world football as boss of Real Madrid.
Chelsea’s Italian manager is high up on a list of candidates to succeed current coach Zinedine Zidane who is under increasing pressure with his contract up at the end of the season.
Conte still has a year and a half to go on his £10million-a-season deal at Chelsea but has also been linked with a return to Italian giants AC Milan.
With constant speculation that he is not entirely happy with life at Stamford Bridge and fancies a move home, Milan were the early front-runners to persuade Conte to quit England in the summer.
Conte, who joined the Blues in the summer of 2016, claims he remains fully committed to Chelsea despite conceding defeat in the quest to retain the Premier League title which he won in his first season in charge.
But the lure of the most prized position in club football at the 12-time European champions would be a significant temptation, even if it would mean delaying finally returning to his homeland.
Madrid were forced to endure the embarrassment of finishing as runners-up to Tottenham in their Champions League group this season.
And as a result they have since been drawn against highly-fancied Paris Saint-Germain — led by £198m Brazilian hotshot Neymar — in the round of 16.
Real Madrid are also fourth in Spain’s La Liga and Zidane has seen his team of Galacticos slump to some humiliating defeats this season amid rumours that megastar Cristiano Ronaldo is unhappy and that he is preparing to offload Welsh wing wizard Gareth Bale.
All of which is putting the squeeze on Zidane and forcing the club to look at managerial options. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino is also on the list of possibles and masterminded a memorable 3-1 defeat over Real this season at Wembley.
Conte’s relations with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich have been strained in the past but it is believed the pair are on better terms at the moment despite the team being 14 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Conte also insists there is no hidden agenda with the injury to Brazilian defender David Luiz, who is out again with a knee problem.
The Brazilian has played just one game since the start of November and was axed from the matchday squad against Manchester United on November 5 following a row between the two.
Conte said: “To stop this, I think it’s right to call the doctor and to have a conference with him. I understand that someone is thinking that I’m not telling the truth. I’m disappointed about this, but I can understand it.
“I’d like to tell you a bad truth rather than a good lie. In this way, I can avoid having to answer this question. Avoid the creation of this atmosphere of ‘it’s not true what he’s telling us’. I will try to solve the situation.
“David has a big inflammation in his knee. It’s important to assess the situation day by day. But I don’t know when he’s able to come back with us.
“In the last few days he was out to work in the pool. Today I saw him on the pitch, to try to run a bit. But very slow. I think that this is a serious problem.”