After all the thrills and spills, Diego Costa’s time at Chelsea appears to be coming to an end.
The striker revealed to the press last Wednesday that Antonio Conte had texted the 28-year-old to tell him he was not in his plans for the coming season.
The striker has been an integral part of Chelsea’s first team ever since being signed by Jose Mourinho back in 2014, spearheading the Blues to the title in his first season and finishing as their top scorer as they were crowned champions again this time around.
In spite of his success however, a fraught relationship with his manager and backlog of misdemeanours on and off the pitch appear to have led to Conte washing his hands of the striker.
The rumour that Costa replied in a “jokey” and perhaps unprofessional manner to a text from Conte about pre-season seems to have been the last straw for the Italian.
At the start of this season the striker flirted with a return to Atletico Madrid while he reportedly fell out with a fitness coach amidst interest from a big-money off from China and was subsequently dropped for a league game against Leicester City.
That is on top of his behaviour on the pitch, which has seen him be banned for stamping and clashing with other players as well as picking up 26 league yellow cards and one red during his three-year stay.
It would appear that Conte doesn’t want to have to deal with the ticking time bomb – or the stress of managing such a volatile player as the Blues look to compete in Europe as well as domestically.
But it is certainly a risk for the Italian to dismiss Costa before a replacement has officially been brought in – especially as there are so few players like the Spaniard out there.
The 28-year-old has an impressive record of 52 goals in 89 league games and was seen by Mourinho as the missing piece of the jigsaw when he signed for £32million.
Strong in the air, able to hold off defenders and decent with his feet as well, Costa is possibly as complete a forward as there is in the Premier League.
Even at times when his goalscoring touch has evaded him – the Spaniard managed only six of his 20 league goals in the second half of the season – he still does an important job for his side.
His propensity to make a fight, niggle and make a nuisance of himself and the pressure he puts on the opposition backline have been of the utmost importance for Chelsea’s two title wins during his stay.
It’s difficult to see who Conte could bring in that would do a similar job. Romelu Lukaku has constantly been linked to a return to Stamford Bridge and appears to be the closest to fitting the bill.
Physically, the Everton striker is even more intimidating with his incredible strength and burst of speed, while his tally of 25 goals for a club finishing seventh will be extremely enticing for Chelsea faithful.
While he would undoubtedly bring goals with him – and is four and a half years younger than Costa – it seems unlikely he’d be able to fill the Spaniard’s shoes for the defensive work.
After all, it was only two months ago that the Belgian had an on-pitch argument where he “shushed” Everton captain Ashley Williams after the Welshman got frustrated at the Belgian’s hold-up play.
It’s easy to see why Conte doesn’t want to have to rely – particularly with plans to implement two-game bans for simulation – but with a title defence and Champions League football to contend with, it’s a huge risk for the Italian to dismiss Chelsea’s “main man.”
It may make for a more harmonious dressing room but, unless Conte is confident Lukaku will fill Costa’s shoes, the Italian may look back at his texting history with regret.