Diego Costa has taken his first step towards reintegration into the Chelsea squad following his spat with Antonio Conte by resuming training with the team, with the striker hoping to play his part in the title pursuit before departing in the summer.
Costa had been working on his own since complaining of pain in his lower back a week ago, prompting a row with a member of Chelsea’s fitness staff who had doubted the validity of the injury. Conte, who supported his coach, made Costa train alone and omitted him from the squad who beat Leicester City on Saturday. Chelsea were convinced the player’s attitude was born less of an injury and more of interest from the Chinese Super League club, Tianjin Quanjian
The forward declared himself fit and, having been assessed by medical staff, was permitted to participate. Conte had never intended to speak to Costa to clear the air after the events of last week, preferring to seek out an improvement in attitude on the training pitch.
It will be down to the player to convince his manager he should be involved in Sunday’s visit of Hull City at the expense of either Willian or Pedro, both outstanding at the King Power Stadium in partnership with Eden Hazard.
Although Chelsea always envisaged Costa returning to the fold, there is an acceptance his stay is unlikely to extend beyond the summer. The owner of Tianjin Quanjian, Shu Yuhui, has admitted attempts were made to secure Costa with a £30m-a-year offer proposed to the player’s agent, Jorge Mendes, only for Chelsea to make clear their 14-goal top scorer would not be sold in the January window. That stance has never shifted.
The situation is likely to be revisited in the summer when other Chinese Super League clubs, as well as the player’s former club Atlético Madrid, are expected to rekindle their interest. Chelsea, resigned to the reality they will not be able to tie the striker down to a new contract with his deal due to expire in 2019, will be more open to negotiating the 28-year-old’s exit at that point.