Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has confirmed that the club did previously attempt to bolster their ranks with the signing of AS Roma's Radja Nainggolan, but offered no clues as to whether or not he intends to reignite his long-running pursuit of a player he believes to be one of the top midfielders on the planet.

Combative Belgian Nainggolan has established a reputation as one of European football's best and most explosive all-round midfield talents over the past two years, netting 14 goals across all competitions last term to beat top scorer Edin Dzeko to Roma's player of the season award.

Conte previously attempted to sign the 29-year-old during his hugely successful stint in charge at Juventus and quickly resumed that particular chase after being appointed as Chelsea boss last summer.

However, the Blues saw at least one initial offer rebuffed by the Giallorossi, who were believed to be demanding upwards of £32m ($42.1m) for one of their key assets.

Nainggolan, nicknamed The Ninja, has since admitted on more than one occasion that Conte did indeed try to convince him to move to Stamford Bridge and both Chelsea and Manchester United were once again linked with his services during the most recent transfer window.

Former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti was also said to be keen to reunite with the former Piacenza and Cagliari man at Inter Milan, although Nainggolan subsequently put an end to speculation over his future in July by signing a new lucrative four-year contract that is due to run until 2021.

Facing the media before Chelsea go head-to-head with Roma in a Champions League clash between the top two teams in Group C, Conte was asked if he was disappointed not to have lured the mohawked Nainggolan to west London.

"It's not right to speak about players of the other team," he said. "In the past, yes, we tried to buy him. But now Nainggolan is Roma's player and I have great respect for him and for Roma, and also for my players.

"It's not right to speak about him. He's a really good player. For me, one of the best midfielders. But he's an opponent."

Conte was also effusive in his praise of Roma captain Daniele De Rossi, whom he coached during his two-year spell with the Italian national team between 2014-16. Pressed on which of Eusebio Di Francesco's current players he would like to sign, he responded: "It's always difficult to answer these sorts of questions.

"It's the group that counts. Within that you have individual talents. But I know De Rossi, [fellow Italian internationals Alessandro] Florenzi and [Stephan] El Shaarawy because I know their heart. If I could take a bit of their heart, it would be very helpful."

Conte has previously been mentioned in connection with the managerial post at the Stadio Olimpico and the passionate Italian was clearly not upset by such speculation, perhaps fuelling rumours that he will return to Serie A sooner rather than later.

"Roma are a top team, so I'm extremely proud to see my name linked with them: a great team, great players, a great city," he added. "They had two major choices since [Rudi] Garcia, and they've made two excellent choices in Spalletti and then Di Francesco."

Radja Nainggolan
Long-time Chelsea target Radja Nainggolan is tied to Roma until 2021