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Conte the coward? Rubbish! Why Diego Costa fully to blame for Chelsea mess

COMMENT: It's a mess. An absolute mess. Diego Costa and Atletico Madrid. Diego CostaandChelsea. It's a shambles. But don't blame the manager. No, this farce isn't Antonio Conte's doing...

The latest from Spain is Atletico and Chelsea have settled on a fee for Diego: €45 million. Which at market rate - and given his ever expanding waistline - sounds about the right. But there's a catch - as you'd expect given Atleti's ban from registering anyone until January 1.

Diego Simeone, the Atletico coach, doesn't want Diego kicking his heels for the next four months. He wants his centre-forward match-hardened for the second-half of the campaign. As much as he likes Diego, Simeone isn't going to indulge him at a crucial point in the season. The idea of bedding in Diego, getting him match fit while every one of his peers has six months of football in their legs, just isn't going to fly. So the message has gone out: if you want this deal to happen, get yourself back to Chelsea.

The problem is, that ship's long sailed. Multiple statements have come from Costa's gob attacking Conte. His character. His coaching. It's turned completely personal. And the madcap thing is: all this has surfaced at the same time as Conte has kept stum, citing the threats of Costa's lawyer in taking the whole affair to the courts as reason for refusing to comment. In contrast, Costa is slating his manager through the press. But not only that. He's also been releasing prepared media statements attacking the club, accusing them of hawking him around Europe and insisting he will only leave for them for one other: Atleti. And all this in the last two weeks - at the same time Simeone and Atleti are trying to find a solution. Madness! Oh, but wait there's more...

It broke over the weekend that two three-month contracts were presented to Costa. Both from China. One from Shanghai SIPG. The other from long-term suitors Tianjin Quanjian. An arrangement to suit everyone. Chelsea get rid. Simeone's demands are satisfied. And he even picks up a decent little earner. But, of course, he turned both offers down.

Jorge Mendes, Costa's agent, sorted both deals for his client thanks to his ever growing Chinese connections. Is he disappointed? Mendes only knows. But there must be questions over his role in this saga. Was the super agent involved in approving the interview with the Daily Mail? Did he oversee the media statements? If the trail leads back to Mendes, then where does that leave his relationship with Conte - and more importantly Chelsea?

It really didn't have to be like this. There is precedent. David Beckham and Real Madrid. Signing for LA Galaxy. Banished by Fabio Capello. There was no public outburst. No downing of tools. He was sent to train with Castilla. And guess what Diego? David did just that. He put his head down and worked. There was no lawyer getting involved. No agent. He turned the situation around through sheer hard work. On his own. A footballer's footballer. A true pro.

Over the weekend, Danny Murphy, the former Liverpool and Tottenham midfielder, accused Conte of cowardice with that infamous text message.

"If a manager had told me via text message that I was no longer wanted," Murphy wrote for the London Evening Standard, "I would have gone straight to see him and told him to grow a pair.

"I would also have been telling my closest friends in the team exactly what I thought of our boss."

Accusing Conte of cowardice is ridiculous. We're all aware of his clash with Costa at the Cobham training ground over Tianjin's January attempts. Just as we know Conte met with Costa and Mendes to make it clear he would be allowed to leave at season's end. Eye-to-eye. Face-to-face. Conte made it clear to Costa what he felt about him.

To be fair to Murphy, he said he would've gone hunting for Conte. But he doesn't pass comment on Costa not replying to the manager and instead going behind his back to Marina Granovskaia, the club's dealmaker, to complain. And then keeping hold of the text to show it off to any reporter like some sort of golden pass excusing him for his behaviour since.

But Murphy, in the same column, undoes his own argument by claiming: "I don't know Costa but all players have different personalities. The best managers understand what is required to get the best from their key men, as Roy Hodgson did when I was at Fulham."

Which is exactly what Conte did with Costa last season. They clashed multiple times. On the training pitch and in front of the TV cameras. Yet, for all the rubbish Conte was forced to publicly tolerate, he didn't lose his rag. He still managed to get a tune out of a player who had challenged his authority time and again. The handling of Costa was Conte at his best. Despite the differences, he found a way to work with a player, to get as much as he could from him, for the betterment of the team and the success of the club.

On Sunday, Conte delivered another masterclass. A 2-1 win at their nearest rivals. Achieved with less than 32 per cent possession and with Spurs making over 300 more passes.

Conte's moved on. As are Chelsea. Costa can be someone else's problem. And he only has himself to blame.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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