As far as footballing nightmares go, the realisation that you’re not wanted at your club anymore has to be up there with being naked on the halfway line at Wembley – especially when that side happens to be the reigning Premier League champions. But is Antonio Conte right to give Spanish striker Diego Costa – the Blues’ top scorer in 2016/17 – the shove just three years after he joined for £32m from Atletico Madrid?
Chinese Super League
On paper, Costa’s strike rate (20 in all competitions at a rate of one every 154 minutes; that’s fourth in the Premier League overall) is as good an incentive to keep the player as any. However, the forward has been a destabilising influence of late, more of a passenger than a player, in a dressing room run by a manager who values loyalty. “They do not want me [at Chelsea]”, Costa said after Spain’s recent draw with Colombia.
Costa has been restless at Stamford Bridge for some time, ostensibly unable to let go of former team Atletico, unhappy at living in London, and briefly flirting with Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Quanjia in May. Costa was offered the unfathomable sum of £620,000 a week by Tianjin, a figure that would have made the forward one of the highest paid footballers on the planet, behind Ronaldo, Tevez, and Messi.
So, for all Costa’s goals, he has been something of a question mark over the past few months. However, the Spaniard’s now inevitable departure may not have anything to do with the man himself at all. Conte wants Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, the Premier League’s second top scorer and Costa’s natural successor. There’s a certain feeling now that Conte already has Lukaku in his pocket, especially given his blunt comments to the incumbent Costa.
The Blues are 10/3 second favourites with the bookmakers for the 2017/18 title behind Manchester City, which makes the side an attractive proposition for punters – although there’s an obvious need to carry some momentum through to next season. In the short term, though, markets like the Request a Bet from Footy Accumulators allow fans to wager on transfers, making an acca on Costa leaving for Arsenal and Lukaku joining Chelsea a possibility in addition to the standard outright bets.
Letting go of our top scorer remains a risk though; we’re still hedging our bets on a player who achieved a great deal elsewhere but is untested at the Bridge. And let’s be honest, we’ve got a knack for signing world-class strikers who either end up injured or never turn up at all – remember Torres? Sutton? Shevchenko? Mutu? Kezman? Lukaku’s signature would be an obvious coup but it perhaps shouldn’t come at the expense of a proven talent.
The good news is that we’ve never relied too heavily on an out-and-out forward to do our scoring (with Hazard, Cahill, Fabregas, and Willian, there are goals all over the park; let’s not forget the fact that our all-time top scorer, Lampard, is a midfielder too) so there’s at least hope for the post-Costa Blues, even in the absence of Lukaku or fellow summer targets Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan) and Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid).
With Costa’s future now in doubt, the player faces a difficult summer. He is understandably desperate to avoid months sat on the sofa with the 2018 World Cup in Russia just around the corner but his comments that he “has no preference for a league” seem to contradict claims that he was homesick for Spain. If true, that could rule out possible suitors Arsenal in favour of a team from his native country.
It’ll be hard to let go of a striker of Costa’s calibre but, if he stays, he’s perhaps too much of a flight risk come January – especially if Lukaku stays away.