LONDON - Antonio Conte asked for time to clear his mind before embarking on the next phase of his Chelsea revolution but Diego Costa had other plans.
Costa had not made it to the exit at Wembley Stadium when he stopped to whip up the dust before any could settle with a warning that he will not be forced to China to fund Conte’s spending spree.
He was, he claimed, only interested in leaving London for Atletico Madrid, his former club, who will be in the market for a striker if they sell Antoine Griezmann as expected.
‘I will only leave Chelsea for Atletico,’ said Costa, who has two more years on his Chelsea contract. ‘If not, I will stay here. I’m not interested in other clubs. I know Chelsea want to sell players, but I told them, I have two years left in my contract and I won’t go somewhere else just because they want so.
‘I will only sign for another club in Europe, they know that. Everyone knows my preferred club, there’s nothing to hide. Otherwise I’ll stay with my current contract.
‘I have a contract and no intention of leaving. If there are changes to be made that might reduce my chances, if the coach won’t count on me any more or is to give space for another striker, I know I’ll have to leave. But only to where I’m willing to go.’
Costa is about to join up with Spain for games against Colombia and Macedonia and cited his ambition to play in next year’s World Cup finals in Russia as a key reason to avoid China.
‘Money is good,’ said the 28-year-old. ‘But I’m grateful for what I have and I have other things to look forward to, like playing the next World Cup. I know that I have a chance to be called if I’m playing well and at a high level, and that’s something I want.
‘If I have to move to another city or another country than Spain, I don’t think I’ll go, I’d rather stay at Chelsea. If the club want to sell me, they know where I want to go.’
Conte’s relationship with Costa has never been smooth. From the outset there was friction when Costa claimed a bad back prevented him from participating in some of the long pattern-of-play exercises in pre-season.
They clashed when Costa reacted to the barrage of instructions from the touchline by daring his manager to replace him in a home game against Leicester in October.
He was dropped in January after a dispute on the training ground at a time when details of an incredible £72million offer from Tianjin Quanjian started to emerge.
Conte is keen to boost his squad in anticipation of the Champions League campaign and Chelsea have been open to the idea of cashing in on Costa to top up profit from the January sales of Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic and fund their pursuit of top targets such as Romelu Lukaku of Everton, Virgil van Dijk of Southampton and Tiemoue Bakayoko of Monaco.
Changes to the taxation rules in China threatened the plan and now Atletico are firmly in the equation although unable to pay anything like £72m.
Asked directly about Costa’s future, Conte replied: ‘Now, it’s important for me to take two or three days to rest and then to speak about the future, for all my players.’
The Chelsea manager plans to take a short break before he returns to London for meetings which will involve discussions about his own contract. He is ready to commit to a four-year deal worth £9.5m a year if he is assured the club can deliver his transfer targets.
Conte added: ‘It will be very important to analyse this season and our squad. We reached an incredible target with every single player performing at 120 per cent. We didn’t have any injuries which was because of our good work but was also very lucky. We didn’t have a squad like Manchester United or City or Tottenham or Arsenal.
‘It’s important to understand this and find the right solution. Don’t forget we weren’t the champions and now we start next season as the champions.’
Here is a disturbing echo from 2015 and Chelsea’s feeble attempt to defend the title. Several senior players owned up to complacency, including Costa, who partied hard and was overweight when he reported for pre-season.
John Terry stressed the importance of a good summer of trading to keep in step with big spenders like Manchester City, who have already signed Bernardo Silva in a deal which starts at £43m, and are closing in on his former Monaco team-mate Bernard Mendy. ‘You can’t stand still in the transfer market,’ said Terry, after the FA Cup final, his final game as a Chelsea player.
‘Man City have already made one big signing. We need to act fast and I am sure the club will.
‘This squad is good enough to compete in all competitions at every level. I’m really confident this group of players will kick on. But, naturally, there’s going to be more games next year. So the squad needs improving and a bit more strength in depth.’
One possibility is Croatian winger Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan, but Chelsea have learnt they will have to pay £48m if they want to sign him.
Perisic has emerged as a top target, with Manchester United also interested in the 28-year-old. He has spent two seasons with Inter after arriving from Wolfsburg in 2015.
Perisic underwhelmed during a two-year stint at Borussia Dortmund and has produced some of his finest moments in international football. He scored at the World Cup in Brazil and at Euro 2016.