It has been a whirlwind weekend for Chelsea and striker Diego Costa. After it was reported that the Spain international was dropped from Antonio Conte’s squad following a row with the club’s physios, it emerged that Costa was the subject of a bid from Chinese Super League side reported to be Tianjin Quanjian.
News over the weekend emerged that the West London club were adamant to hold on to their leading scorer. On Monday, however, that’s changed, as the Telegraph report that Conte is set to offload the striker in the summer.
As this will-he-won’t-he unfolds, we asked Chelsea bloggers Phil Lythell and Mark Worrall whether or not the Premier League leaders would be better off with or without Costa.
There is no denying that Costa’s latest tantrum has come at a bad time. That the combustible striker chose to rock the boat after the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham that signalled the end of Chelsea’s 13-match winning run is extremely frustrating at a time when the squad needs to be regrouping. That said, this is the joint top goalscorer in the Premier League that we are talking about and one that is leading the running for the player of the year awards. He is not somebody to jettison from the squad without a second thought.
Admittedly, the Blues have won 3-0 on the two occasions this season when he has been unavailable for selection, suggesting that they are more than able to cope without him. That, however, is potentially misleading, given that those victories came against a Bournemouth side with a porous defence and Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester that are in the middle of an even more miserable title defence than Chelsea’s last season.
Costa has proved pivotal in tougher and tighter contests, notably in the massive 3-1 win at Manchester City in November, and has also grabbed the winner on five separate occasions this season. Perhaps a front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez can prove as regularly potent. But why take the risk especially with Conte still clearly having reservations over £33m summer signing Michy Batshuayi, the only other senior striker in the squad?
Also, it must be remembered that this is not the first time that Costa has expressed his unhappiness this season, with the Spain international demanding to be substituted during the 3-0 win over Leicester in October. Yet his frustration with the manager did not derail his form, which shows that he is capable of being professional on the pitch despite any personal misgivings that he might have.
To assuage the situation, Chelsea should instead give him their word that he can leave in the summer and give him the motivation to keep his stock high by firing the club to the Premier League title.
Costa may have scored 51 goals in 99 games for Chelsea since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2014, but his Blues career has been bedevilled by controversy and, as Phil points out, the timing of this latest drama was awful. Indeed, it could be argued within reason that Costa’s antics once more display a self-centred lack of respect for the football club.
It’s clear that Costa has attempted to undermine Conte’s authority by railing against the Italian’s back-room medical staff. The Chelsea manager may have subsequently played down the whole incident by indicating Costa was carrying a back injury, and if that was the only matter at hand there would have been scarcely an eyebrow raised at the striker being dropped. The key issue however isn’t Costa’s fitness, but the likelihood that he has had his head turned by the absurd amount of money supposedly being tabled to lure him to the Chinese Super League.
The reported £5m signing-on fee, coupled with a £30m-a-year salary being offered is as remarkable as the expected £80m transfer fee. Brazil-born Costa has the added distraction of knowing that the numbers aren’t in the realms of fantasy as his native countryman and former Chelsea teammate Oscar will no doubt have explained to him in the wake of his recent £60m move to Chinese club Shanghai SIPG.
All it would take on the part of Costa to placate matters, if China weren’t a factor in his mind, is a simple footballer-type statement saying he’s sorry for what has happened and that he is fully committed to helping Chelsea win the league this season. But with super-agent Jorge Mendes pulling the strings behind the scenes, that’s unlikely to happen.
If Conte’s reported “go to China” comment directed at Costa last week is to be believed, then it’s evident the saga has been testing the patience of the Blues boss to the point where he may well be thinking that Chelsea’s chances of winning the Premier League would be hampered by having an unfocused high-profile player in the dressing room. The situation brought with it a phenomenal amount of pressure and Conte admirably managed his way around it at Leicester and, Costa or no Costa, there is no reason to suggest he can’t do it for the balance of the season.
If Costa departs to China this month, can Hazard, Pedro and Willian deliver the goods week in and week out as a front three, assuming Batshuayi remains on the periphery and a replacement striker isn’t bought? That is the question Conte will be considering, and probably not alone. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is certain to have his view on the matter and, given Conte’s positive impact at Stamford Bridge since his arrival in the summer, the owner will back his manager to the hilt. Abramovich may also recall Costa’s surly attitude when things went disastrously wrong last season.
Receiving £80m for Costa plus £60m for Oscar makes for an impressive war chest that would test the resolve of many a club chairman and, in the next couple of weeks, Conte and Abramovich could well decide to do just that.
— Mark Worrall
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