Chelsea boss Antonio Conte laughs off Diego Costa 'criminal' claims

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has laughed off Diego Costa's suggestion that he has been treated like "a criminal" and says the striker is in "the past".

The 28-year-old Brazil-born Spain international signed for £32million from Atletico Madrid in July 2014, agreeing a five-year contract, and wishes to return to the Spanish capital.

Speaking from his native Lagarto earlier this week, Costa criticised Chelsea and Conte, who responded with humour on Friday.

"It's great. I prefer to laugh," Conte said.

"I can tell you that everyone who was in Chelsea knows very well what happened last season with Diego. It's funny, this interview."

Costa on Friday pleaded with Chelsea to lower their asking price to allow him to return to Atletico.

Costa claims he was told he was not wanted by a text message sent by Conte during the off-season.

But the Blues insist it was decided in January, with the striker and his agent, Jorge Mendes, that Costa could leave this summer.

Costa still has two years remaining on his contract. As a consequence, he has been ordered by Chelsea to return to London, get himself match fit and make himself available for selection.

That stance is seemingly at odds with Conte's, but Chelsea want to monitor their player ahead of a possible transfer.

Conte was asked if he would select Costa if he was fit to play.

"No. I'm not interested to continue this issue. I repeat: for me, it is the past," Conte added.

A Chelsea spokesman added: "Antonio's not wanting to comment further on this subject and neither are the club. Our position is clear."

Asked how the situation might be resolved, the Chelsea spokesman added: "I don't think that's something we'll get into publicly. As a Chelsea player we've said he should return to Chelsea and that's where we'll leave it."

Costa has won two Premier League titles in three years at Chelsea, scoring 59 goals in 120 appearances. He has 52 Premier League goals to his name.

He says his former club are being priced out of a move by the Blues.

Asked the fee Chelsea are requesting, Costa told ESPN Brasil: "I don't know, but my agent said that Chelsea want something that Atletico can't get near.

"What I know is that this offer Chelsea will get is bigger than what they paid (for Costa in July 2014).

"Atletico is a team growing every year, a big team, but they can't pay an extraordinary amount.

"I think they (Chelsea) should take into account everything that I've done. It's not my fault that I'm not at the club. If it was down to me I'd be playing. It's already been one month. Holidays are good but it gets tiresome."

Chelsea play Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday after opening their Premier League title defence with last week's loss to Burnley.

Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are suspended following their dismissals against the Clarets, meaning Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his debut following his summer signing from Monaco. France midfielder Bakayoko had a slight knee injury when he joined Chelsea.

Conte said: "He's not at the top of physical condition, but he could be in contention for the game because at this moment I don't have other midfielders available."

Pedro (ankle) is a major doubt, but fellow forward Eden Hazard is continuing his recovery from a broken ankle and is not available.

"We must have patience with him," Conte said of Hazard.

Victor Moses is available again following his one-match suspension.

Conte says Chelsea must try to emulate Tottenham, who are now in their fourth season under Mauricio Pochettino.

Spurs have challenged for the title in the last two seasons, only for Leicester and then Chelsea to triumph, and Conte has admiration for the work of Pochettino.

Conte said: "I think Tottenham is doing a great job in these years. I think Pochettino is doing a great job. He created a good foundation for his club.

"I think we must do the same, because now we don't have this base, this foundation, like Tottenham.

"Now we don't have this. We need time. Chelsea needs time to work, to improve, to create this.

"We must have patience to build something important for the present, but above all for the future."

AP


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