Jorge Sampaoli Says He Was Chelsea's 1st Choice Amid Antonio Conte Rumours

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2016

Chilean national football team, Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli, gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Santiago, Chile, on January 13, 2016. Chile coach Jorge Sampoali appears on the verge of quitting six months after guiding La Roja to the Copa America, with the Argentine claiming he is being held 'hostage' by the federation. AFP PHOTO/CLAUDIO REYES / AFP / Claudio Reyes        (Photo credit should read CLAUDIO REYES/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Chile manager Jorge Sampaoli has said he was Chelsea's first choice to succeed interim chief Guus Hiddink ahead of Antonio Conte, but his lack of English-speaking skills meant the Italy boss overtook him in the race.

Sampaoli told Argentinian station Radio Vorterix that he met with Blues owner Roman Abramovich and was told he was the front-runner, but he needed too much time to improve his English (h/t MailOnline's James Andrew):

I had a meeting with Chelsea's owner and he told me that I was the first option. I was about to be their new coach. 

But then Conte appeared and it became a competition between us. It was him or me.

I needed some time in order to improve my English but this kind of club doesn't give you that time.

Sampaoli won the 2015 Copa America with Chile before stepping down as manager of the national team in January of this year amid reports he was in talks to take over at the Chelsea helm.

The report indicated Conte is poised to sign a three-year deal at Stamford Bridge and will take over the west London giants after UEFA Euro 2016, when his contract with the Azzurri expires.   

Although Conte's Stamford Bridge appointment is yet to be made official, the Sun's Gary Stonehouse reported that the former Juventus mastermind was "expected to confirm" his departure from the Italy helm on Monday.

It seems likely Sampaoli will miss out on the Blues position, even though former Chile charge Arturo Vidal told the Times he thought his old mentor would be a great fit in England (h/t London Evening Standard's Vaishali Bhardwaj):

I would love to see him in England. He has a lot of quality. He would help any club he joined to improve. He has the perfect style for the Premier League. He likes speed, he likes pressing, he likes to attack a lot. That is the football you like in England, isn't it? 

He works hard, too. He understands players, he studies everything. He would do really well in England. He only lives for football.

Despite that glowing recommendation from his former disciple, Sampaoli does have other options. According to Goal's Dan EdwardsBoca Juniors figurehead Carlos Tevez wants the Argentinian to coach the Buenos Aires titans in his native Argentina.

There certainly wouldn't be any issue of a language barrier in that case, but South American football expert Rupert Fryer said Sampaoli's affection for rivals River Plate won't allow the move:

Chelsea recently saw Hiddink's 15-match unbeaten domestic run come to an end with the FA Cup defeat suffered at Everton's hands on Saturday, but the Dutchman is yet to be defeated in the Premier League since returning to the Blues helm in December.

It seems assured the club will be getting their hands on a talented replacement no matter which option they go with, but Sampaoli's English skills—or lack thereof—have apparently ruled him out of the running.