London (AFP) – Antonio Conte has warned Diego Costa to ignore speculation about a potential move to the lucrative Chinese Super League and focus on firing Chelsea to the Premier League title.
Reports this week claimed Tianjin Quanjian had agreed a deal with the Premier League leaders to sign the volatile Spain striker.
It is not the first time Costa has been mentioned as a target for the mega-rich Chinese league and he missed Chelsea’s trip to Leicester to January amid claims he wanted to join Tianjin.
Blues boss Conte publicly insisted Costa’s absence on that occasion was due to a back injury, but the speculation has persisted after some erratic displays from the forward lately.
Tianjin took to Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, to deny any negotiations had taken place and Conte opted against clarifying the situation on Friday at his media conference prior to Monday’s Premier League clash with Middlesbrough.
Instead, the Italian called on Conte to keep his mind on leading Chelsea’s attack as they try to hold off Tottenham’s challenge in the title race.
“I don’t know about this,” Conte said. “I think now it’s very important for every single player, for every single person that works at Chelsea to be focused on the present.
“The present is very important for us. Now is more important than the future.
“I see my players every day and I can see the right concentration, the right focus about my players.
“I think this part of the season, you arrive four games to go, you have the possibility to reach a fantastic target for us.”
Costa has scored 19 goals this season and 51 in 86 Premier League appearances since signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2014.
He has two years left on his contract, but is a notoriously temperamental character and Chelsea may be prepared to cut their loses and reinvest the funds in the squad.
Everton striker Romelu Lukaku has been linked with a return to Chelsea, while there have been reports that Blues duo Willian and Cesc Fabregas could be sold.
“This part of the season and this period it’s normal to cope with this situation, this speculation,” Conte added.
“For sure sometimes you can find the truth and a lot of the time it’s not true. The most important thing is for us to be focused.”
By the time Chelsea host Middlesbrough on Monday, their lead over Tottenham could be cut to one point if their rivals win at West Ham on Friday.
But Conte is confident his players will cope with the pressure of remaining on top in the last four games.
“The pressure in this stage of the season is normal and you must cope with this,” Conte said.
“Every single player and the coach in the club has a good experience to face this moment.”
<figure><figcaption>Chelsea striker Diego Costa warms up before the English Premier League match against Everton on April 30, 2017 <span>Copyright AFP/File Paul ELLIS</span> </figcaption></figure>