Football: Costa in no-man's land with no deals

Chelsea's Diego Costa reacts during their English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea's Diego Costa reacts during their English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur.PHOTO: REUTERS

China bid nixed by new foreigner quota, and boss Conte won't negotiate for first XI recall

LONDON • Antonio Conte has no plans to hold clear-the-air talks with Diego Costa, and the onus will be on the Spain forward in training this week to prove he warrants a swift restoration to the Chelsea side for Sunday's visit of Hull.

Costa was the subject of interest from the Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian, who were reportedly prepared to pay him £30 million (S$52.5 million) a year.

However, the club's owner Shu Yuhui has told Tianjin Sports Channel that they are no longer interested in Costa - or fellow strikers Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Radamel Falcao (Monaco), and Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - after the Chinese Football Association on Monday announced it will cut foreign player numbers in top-flight teams to curb massive spending on overseas talent.

"This situation has brought a change to our signing plans," said Shu. "The online reports about Costa, it's true we'd like him, and we made an offer for Cavani and were deep in negotiations."

He added that the club also made a bid for Benzema and attempted to sign Falcao.

Shu's comments come after Conte dropped Costa from Chelsea's squad that beat Leicester City 3-0 in the Premier League last weekend, even if the Italian insisted the striker was ruled out due to injury.

The 28-year-old Spain international has been pursuing his own rehabilitation schedule ever since and worked outside at Cobham on Monday, as he had done the previous day, while the rest of the first team and management staff enjoyed 48 hours off following the win at the champions.

It is understood that Chelsea will not sell the division's joint-leading scorer with 14 goals in the middle of the season, but it appears increasingly likely he will depart Stamford Bridge in the summer.

Certainly the events of the last week have ensured that their original plan to secure Costa to new terms - his deal expires in 2019 - has effectively been abandoned.

Yet conviction remains within the set-up that Costa can be reintegrated into the team for the rest of this campaign, in an effort to ensure the issue does not derail the team's pursuit of a second Premier League title in three years.

Key to that, however, will be the player demonstrating an improved attitude and a willingness to fight to regain his first-team place.

Conte does not intend to instigate discussions with the player to smooth that return to the fold and will merely seek evidence of a positive reaction in training.

The Blues manager has always made clear to his players that their prospects of making the team hinge upon impressing with work-rate and commitment in training in the build-up to a fixture. And Costa, who has been urged to apologise to Conte by fellow senior members of the side, must now earn his recall.

Costa will have to convince the manager that he deserves to play ahead of Willian, Eden Hazard or Pedro Rodriguez, all outstanding in the Leicester win that saw Chelsea stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Costa in no-man's land with no deals'. Print Edition | Subscribe