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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Diego Costa unlikely to resolve issues with Antonio Conte, but there could still be a way back for Chelsea striker

Conte has told Costa he has no future at the club, but could rumblings of disquiet precipitate the Italian's departure from Stamford Bridge?

Chelsea's Diego Costa applauds the fans at the end of the 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal at Wembley, the last time he played for the club. Andrew Yates / Reuters
Chelsea's Diego Costa applauds the fans at the end of the 2-1 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal at Wembley, the last time he played for the club. Andrew Yates / Reuters

As arguments go, Diego Costa's fallout at Chelsea wouldn't look out of place if it was plunked bang smack in the middle of some toe-curling UK soap opera.

While breaking up via text message was hardly great behavior by manager Antonio Conte, the 28-year-old Spain striker's attempts to portray himself as heartbroken teenager (or "criminal" in this case) in this protracted story line is hard to buy into. There is suspending disbelief and then there is wiping out living memory.

Sportsmen have a strange way of distorting history. If we cast our minds back to January, it was widely reported that Costa was on the brink of a lucrative move to China to join the ever expanding list of footballers set to quadruple their incomes overnight. In a wide ranging interview with The Daily Mail last week though, Costa claimed he had wanted to sign a new deal with the Premier League champions only for his manager to throw a spanner in the works.

"In January, things happened with the coach. I was on the brink of renewing my contract and they put the brakes on it. I suspect the manager was behind it. He asked for that to happen," Costa told the newspaper from his family home in Lagarto, Brazil. Well, yeah, that generally is the manager's prerogative if he doesn't want to keep a player.

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This is the same Diego Costa who has let it be known virtually since the day he set foot in Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014 that he hoped to return to Atletico Madrid one day. He again reiterated that his heart was set on a return to Atletico, and that it is Chelsea trying to steer him towards a move to the Chinese Super League. Atletico are currently under a transfer embargo and cannot register new players until January. But Costa, who had been granted an extended leave by the club over the summer, added he has not reported for training as he does not want to train with the club's reserves, and is happy staying in Brazil and paying club fines until his future is resolved.

While Costa's situation throws up some interesting debates around employment rights, whereby a club can deny a player the right to join a club of his own choosing and sell him to one of their preference instead, it's hard to pity a player seemingly unwilling to fulfill the obligations of that contract and who too often straddles the line between pantomime villain and outright goon when on the pitch.

According to reports on Monday, Chelsea want the player to end his exile, return to London and prove his fitness, but the idea that player and manager will resolve their differences and make up seems fanciful.

Conte and Costa are both prickly characters. Carlo Ancelotti, the former Chelsea manager who was in charge of Conte during his playing days at Juventus, remembered a player defined by a ferocious work ethic but also a spiteful tongue, unafraid to tell luminaries such as Zinedine Zidane that he wasn't pulling his weight. Costa, as anyone who has surveyed his work in the Premier League over three largely successful seasons, will talk of a lethal goalscorer whose aggression stands him out as one of the division's most difficult to contain.

But while bridges appear burnt for now, time could allow Costa a way back in at Chelsea. The rumblings of disquiet around Conte's position - exacerbated further by his side's shock 3-2 defeat to Burnley in their opening game of the season - pockmarked by a lack of players in and too many shipped out - it seems unfathomable the decision to sell Nemanja Matic to a direct Premier League rival met with his approval - makes it easier to imagine the Italian may feel his future lies elsewhere. He walked out on Juventus, a club he played for and managed with some distinction, after guiding the club to a third straight scudetto. Doing the same at Chelsea isn't too hard to imagine.

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