Chelsea's search to secure a satisfactory new understudy to Thibaut Courtois appears set to continue after Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez ruled out the sale of Karl Darlow. The Premier League leaders are looking to sign another goalkeeper before the January transfer deadline in a move that would allow Asmir Begovic to secure more regular first-team football elsewhere.
Bournemouth failed with an initial £10m ($12.5m) bid for Begovic last week, although are believed to remain keen to acquire the Bosnian international as an upgrade on Artur Boruc and Adam Federici. However, as confirmed by Antonio Conte himself earlier on Friday (27 January), any potential deal is predicated upon Chelsea being able to obtain a replacement.
"Begovic is a Chelsea player and I'm happy to have him in the squad," he said. "I'm happy with his commitment on and off the pitch. He's important in the changing room. Only if we have a good substitution he can go, otherwise he stays here."
Darlow has emerged as the Italian's latest target, with The Sun reporting that Chelsea are preparing to make a move worth £8m. The 26-year-old has now established himself ahead of Matz Sels and Rob Elliott as Newcastle's first-choice between the posts and Benitez is eager to retain his services as the Toon, currently second in the Championship and seven points clear of the play-off pack, target an instant return to the Premier League.
"When I came, Rob was the starter. He had bad luck with injuries. Karl, little by little, was improving and he has worked very hard and he did well when Sels lost his possession," he was quoted as saying by The Chronicle. "Karl has done really well and is playing with more confidence, improving with Simon (Smith) the goalkeeper coach. I am pleased with him. We are not considering selling him, I have read in the press (link to Chelsea)."
Darlow is the third goalkeeper in two days to have links to Chelsea dismissed after Brendan Rodgers warned that any pursuit of Celtic number one Craig Gordon would be a waste of time and AC Milan's Diego Lopez expressed a desire to prolong his temporary spell with Espanyol beyond the end of the season. Galatasaray's Fernando Muslera was another name featured on the three-man shortlist reported by The Telegraph earlier this week, while Tim Krul, currently on loan to Ajax from Newcastle, has also been mentioned in connection with a possible switch to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are believed to have pressed ahead with their pursuit of Gordon and reportedly saw a £3m offer rejected. Rodgers confirmed on Friday that there had been a bid, but said it was "nothing that would (make us) even think about moving him".
When asked if Celtic considered the offer derisory, he added: "I don't want to put any numbers on it. The message is pretty clear. He is not for sale."