Football: Blues get Costa back but plan for his exit

Diego Costa will return to Chelsea's squad for the Premier League match against Hull City.
Diego Costa will return to Chelsea's squad for the Premier League match against Hull City.PHOTO: REUTERS

Striker available to face Hull, but Chelsea are lining up Morata to replace him after season

LONDON • Diego Costa will return to Chelsea's squad for Sunday's Premier League match against Hull City after indicating his commitment to the club for the rest of the season.

The striker spoke to manager Antonio Conte on Tuesday before training, in which he played a full part with his team-mates for the first time in a week.

Chelsea are confident that 28-year-old Costa has no intention of seeking a transfer this month despite the presence of his agent, Jorge Mendes, in China speaking to several clubs about his client.

The Spain international is still expected to leave Chelsea in the summer, although such is his volatility that the club have not ruled out re-opening talks over a contract extension after he rejected an improved deal worth £200,000 (S$349,500) a week.

The Times of London has reported that Chelsea are already planning for a future without Costa, however, with Conte prioritising a move for Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata. The Premier League leaders tried to sign the Spain striker last summer at the end of his two-year loan at Juventus.

Costa's potential departure - in addition to the £60 million raised by this month's sale of Oscar to Shanghai SIPG - may give Chelsea sufficient funds to tempt Real, where Morata, 24, remains the club's second-choice striker behind Karim Benzema.

Costa received a warm welcome at training from his team-mates, who view him as integral to their title challenge.

However, the league's joint-leading scorer this season with 14 goals has some way to go to complete his reintegration into the squad.

The talks with Conte in the presence of the club's medical staff are understood to have focused on his fitness after an apparent back injury, rather than his mental state or any transfer plans. It is not guaranteed he will start against Hull.

His return to training follows an admission from Shu Yuhui, owner of Chinese Super League (CSL) club Tianjin Quanjian, that they will not sign him this month because of new rules from the Chinese Football Association limiting CSL clubs to fielding three foreign players in a game.

Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas has questioned the timing of the move, with the CSL kicking off on March 7.

"This decision should have been made after the season, or with a certain buffer," the Portuguese said during his team's training camp in Qatar. "Such a huge change shouldn't be announced about a month before the new season."

It was also reported that Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has turned down a £520,000- a-week offer to play in China.

His agent Dimitri Seluk told Sky Sports that the 33-year-old, who is out of contract after this season, was targeted by Jiangsu Suning.

"He wants to play at the highest level. He's happy at Manchester City. Yaya likes football more than money," Seluk told Sky.

While Toure wants to remain in the Premier League, West Ham's Dimitri Payet is seeking a move but the club have warned the Frenchman that they will not be pushed into selling him in the summer if he does not leave during the current transfer window.

Despite Payet's determination to return to the south of France, West Ham are insistent there is no financial pressure on them to sell a player whose deal runs out in 2021.

They are willing to bide their time until they receive a suitable fee from Marseille, whose second bid of £20 million was turned down on Monday.

It is understood that a significant gap remains between the two clubs in their respective valuations of Payet, 29, and West Ham are unconvinced the French club will meet their asking price, believed to be more than £30 million.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Blues get Costa back but plan for his exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe