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Conte & Diego Costa: Stop blaming THAT text for Chelsea manager's demise

COMMENT: Don't blame the text. Yes, Antonio Conte has contributed to his demise at Chelsea. But don't claim that text to Diego Costa last summer is at the heart of the club's current woes.

There's been some real revisionism about what occurred last summer. Yes, Conte fired off that text. And yes, it drew a line in the sand. But it was no catalyst for Costa's departure. That happened months earlier - and on the other side of the world...

How quickly so many pundits forget. Tianjin Quanjian and their £76m bid. Costa wanted to go. Sod the title. Sod the lack of cover Conte had for him. Indeed, sod Chelsea. The Spain striker saw the dollar signs and wanted the move. But Conte refused. He wouldn't sanction it. Not with no-one waiting in the wings as cover. Only Michy Batshuayi was a recognised alternative - and we all know what the manager thinks of him.

Lack of cover we hear you say? Well, just think of Costa's teammate at Atletico Madrid - Antoine Griezmann. Where Costa was ready to take a swing at Conte for preventing his Far East money spinner, Griezmann did the opposite. While his future teammate was skipping Chelsea's preseason to party with pals in Brazil, Griezmann was rejecting Manchester United for the sole reason that Atletico's transfer ban would leave them short of strikers. He couldn't have that on his conscience, no matter his wish to emulate his hero David Beckham.

So Conte stopped Costa leaving. Just like Griezmann, he put the club ahead of himself. The Italian had barely worked six months with Costa and was already fed up. It would've been easier to tell the board to accept Tianjin's money. He could even use the sale as an excuse for why their title push had fallen short.

But Conte isn't built like that. He wanted to win. Even when the message was relayed to Costa - and they had to be separated by staff and teammates on the Cobham training pitch - Conte was still convinced he'd made the right decision. For the good of the club, he'd get a tune out of his centre-forward and drag them over the title winning line.

And in Costa's case it was a matter of dragging him kicking and screaming - and at times literally. He didn't down tools. But he was close. As much as pundits want to claim otherwise, when it comes to Costa the stats show they're again indulging in some revisionism. The centre-forward finished the Premier League season as a title winner - and with 20 goals. Not a bad return. But after the January market shut and Tianjin were sent packing, Costa managed just five goals for the remainder of the campaign. And none were against a top six team.

Five goals in four months. Was it worth it? For Conte, after all the tantrums, the strops and public shows of contempt, clearly it wasn't. Costa's output couldn't justify the manager and his loyal staff tolerating his antics. This was no worldbeater - as many are claiming today. Not after that transfer window shut on January 31, 2017. There was simply no longer a reason to indulge him.

Could Conte have handled things differently? Better? This column would argue no. The Italian's predecessor ran into the same problems. We all remember Costa, Jose Mourinho and bib-gate. Old habits die hard. And in Costa's case, not at all. He wasn't going to change.

In Conte's eyes, Costa was a liability. The manager has spoken openly of the transition his squad has undergone over the past 18 months. Player after senior player has departed. A new culture is having to be built. Conte needed leaders for his young players to follow. Leaders with good habits. Selfless leaders. Everything that Costa, as far as Conte was concerned, was not.

So the text exchange happened. Costa tried going over Conte's head. And for once, the board backed their manager over the player. Costa could've tried to prove Conte wrong. He could've done a Beckham - Fabio Capello, Real Madrid an' all that. Instead, he kept to type and gave us all a running commentary of his extended summer break in Lagarto, happily slating Conte in the process.

Oh yeah, Conte really did get Costa all wrong...

As things stand, the Italian will leave Chelsea at season's end. A disappointing fall which in part has been self-inflicted. Even his closest allies had warned this column that Conte was talking his way out of job - and this was before Christmas.

Indeed Cristian Stellini, who worked with Conte at Siena and Juventus, actually questioned his good friend's complaints about Chelsea's spending only days ago: "...it's not that Chelsea did not buy players, maybe he expected something more but it's still a strong team. It's not like they haven't invested any money."

Now in charge of Alessandria, Stellini had actually been tapped last summer about joining Conte's backroom staff. But that didn't stop him challenging Conte's claims.

And Stellini's not alone. Conte's final months with Juventus were endured in a similar way. The only difference being his relationship with the English media has not deteriorated as it did in Turin.

So yes, when the axe falls, it can be said Conte could've done some things better as Chelsea manager. But not that text to an over-familiar Diego Costa.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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