LONDON • Antonio Conte claimed he is unaware of any transfer offer from China for Diego Costa and insisted that only a back injury prevented Chelsea's top scorer from taking part in his team's 3-0 Premier League victory at Leicester City.
The Blues manager also refused to confirm or deny reports that he and some of his backroom staff were involved in a dispute with Costa, the club's top scorer this season with 14 league goals.
"I have read a lot of speculation about this topic and I can tell you if there are problems - and I repeat 'if' - with players, I am used to solving them in the changing room, not outside, not in press conferences," said the Italian.
Asked again later why Costa did not travel to the King Power Stadium with his team-mates, Conte replied: "If you want to know the truth, I'm ready to tell the truth.
"On Tuesday during the training session, Diego stopped because he felt a pain in his back. From that moment he didn't train during the week. For this reason, today he wasn't available. This is the reason, the truth."
If there are problems with players, I am used to solving them in the changing room, not outside.
ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, keeping his cards close to his chest. He was quizzed about top-scorer Diego Costa's absence from the team.
Costa is believed to have been the subject of a lucrative offer from an unnamed Chinese club that would earn the striker around £30 million (S$52.18 million) a year, but Conte pleaded ignorance.
"I don't know anything about this," he said. "The club did not inform me about this. That can be only speculation."
Costa has two years left on his Chelsea contract and reports from ESPN Brasil on Saturday said the 28-year-old Brazilian-born Spain striker had no interest in going to China. However, two Chelsea players, Oscar and John Obi Mikel, have already joined Chinese sides Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin Teda respectively in this month's transfer window.
Conte added that he will not concern himself with questions about Costa's future at Stamford Bridge after seeing his side open up a seven-point advantage at the top of the league table, before Liverpool faced Manchester United yesterday.
Two goals from Marcos Alonso and another from Pedro helped the Blues beat the Premier League champions.
"I can't be concerned about this because today my players showed me a great performance and great spirit," Conte said.
"That's very important. When you are able to win this type of tough game - Leicester were champions last season and this season I think their team has improved - it means that I can't be concerned about anything.
"I must be pleased to work with these players. For sure I want to continue to work with all my players."
Leicester suffered a 10th defeat of their title defence but manager Claudio Ranieri praised his players' efforts despite his side flirting with relegation danger - just five points clear of the drop zone.
He said: "We are in the battle for relegation. But we are in good condition and I'm sure now we can get some good points.
"The mentality is right. This team is used to fighting. Three seasons ago they fought to win the Championship, two seasons ago they survived a relegation battle and last season they won the title.
"They are used to fighting. I'm very happy with the performance. We tried to do our best."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE