Antonio Conte has insisted that Diego Costa is of “fundamental importance” to Chelsea while rejecting reports that he could rejoin Atletico Madrid.
Atletico have publicly and persistently pursued a deal to bring Costa back to the Spanish capital for several months, but Chelsea have never wavered in their stance that their star striker is not for sale.
And Conte says that Costa is “very happy” as he works hard to get himself ready for the new Premier League season.
Reports in Spain this week suggested that Costa handed in a formal transfer request in a bid to force through a move back to the Vicente Calderon, and Atletico president Enrique Cerezo was subsequently quoted as saying that a deal was “close” — though he later denied he made the comments in a statement issued to AS.
In a scheduled news conference to preview Chelsea’s friendly clash with WAC RZ Pellets on Wednesday, Conte unequivocally dismissed the possibility of Costa leaving Stamford Bridge this summer.
“Diego is our player,” Conte said. “He is a fantastic player, a player with a fundamental importance and there is no problem.
“He stays with us, he is working very hard, he is very happy to work with his teammates and with me in the new idea of football. He is a Chelsea player.
“He is an important player, a very strong player, one of the best in the world, and I am sure when he goes into our ideas he will score a lot of goals for us.”
Sources have told ESPN FC that the constant speculation surrounding Costa’s future is a cause of considerable frustration among senior officials at Chelsea, and on Tuesday the Daily Telegraph reported that Atletico’s attempts to unsettle the player have soured the previously good relationship between the two clubs.
While a popular figure among teammates and Chelsea supporters, Costa has failed to fully settle into life in England. Sources have told ESPN FC that he feels he has been persecuted by the British media since his arrival two years ago, largely due to his abrasive playing style, and he still does not have command of the language.
But Costa has three years left to run on his current contract at Stamford Bridge, and the fact that he returned to preseason training last week considerably leaner and fitter than last season underlined to many at Chelsea his determination to play a key role in the club’s revival under Conte.
Costa and the rest of the Chelsea squad are currently in a week-long training camp in the southern Austrian town of Velden, before flying to the United States to participate in the International Champions Cup. They will play Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan in Pasadena, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Minneapolis, respectively.
New signing Michy Batshuayi joined up with his new teammates on Sunday, while Kurt Zouma participated in training on Monday as he continues his lengthy recovery from a serious knee injury sustained in February.
“Today [Zouma] started the aerobic work for the first time,” Conte said. “When we have a very strong situation, no [he is not involved]. We wait because we must respect the right time for him.
“Now we are preparing for him to go and train when there aren’t very strong situations. He has also started to play our idea of football when we have the ball, and also without the ball.
“We know he is recovering but I know he needs more time to recover. It’s important we don’t push him. I had the same injury and I know from experience when the player is ready to go.”