Saturday 24 February 2018

Relief for Chelsea as Costa seals Atleti move

Spanish club commit to a €65m fee to bring striker back and end contract saga

Diego Costa celebrating after scoring for Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against AC Milan in 2014. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Diego Costa celebrating after scoring for Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against AC Milan in 2014. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Chelsea have agreed to loan Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for the rest of the season after the Spanish club made a commitment to buy him for €65m next summer.

The deal for Costa to leave was finally struck after it was agreed that Chelsea would not subsidise his wages, even though he cannot play for Atletico until January because of their transfer ban, or pay him any loyalty bonus.

The terms of the agreement mean that Costa is no longer Chelsea's concern and he can now travel to Madrid to complete his medical and agree personal terms. He is expected to be presented to the supporters before the home game against Sevilla tomorrow.

After that, of course, Atletico face Chelsea at their new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Champions League and it will be fascinating to see whether Costa is in the stands.

As Costa has been absent without leave for 11 weeks, spending the entire summer in Brazil, and has refused to return to Chelsea this season, the notion of a loyalty payment would seem remarkable, although it related to a percentage of any transfer fee agreed being due to him under his contract.

Chelsea have continually fined Costa during his absence, insisting that he is an employee in breach of contract.

The Professional Footballers' Association blocks players being fined more than two weeks' wages but that is only in the case of them making themselves available to play.

Costa has not done that and as he earns £150,000 (€171,000) a week he may well be £1.5m (€1.71m) out of pocket.

To do this Chelsea have adhered to a four-point plan: that Costa, despite his desire to go, needed to return to England, train, get fit and get himself in contention - even though manager Antonio Conte had texted the 28-year-old to tell him he was not part of his plans.

Principle

Chelsea were always prepared to sell Costa but the message from owner Roman Abramovich was clear: he would not be allowed to force his way out on the cheap. It almost became a point of principle at the club.

Atletico, whose coach Diego Simeone has driven the deal, had initially offered as little as €28m for Chelsea's top scorer last season in the belief that the Stamford Bridge hierarchy would simply want rid of him.

There was a fear at Chelsea that Atletico might make a similarly low offer in January.

Costa is not allowed to play until then because of the transfer ban on Atletico, which may, actually, have helped him to secure his move, given the club were close to signing Alexandre Lacazette before he agreed to join Arsenal.

Costa has been determined to return to his former club, who he left in July 2014 when his £32m release clause was triggered, for more than a year.

Indeed, he told Conte on the pre-season tour to the United States in the summer of 2016, soon after the Italian was appointed, that he wanted to go back to Madrid.

However, his hopes were dashed as Atletico bought the French striker Kevin Gameiro instead.

Yet, Costa has always been a firm favourite of Simeone who wanted him back and even demanded the move as part of his recent contract negotiations.

The Spain international will be allowed to train with Atletico but cannot be registered to play for them until the ban is lifted on January 1, 2018.

Fifa does allow clubs to sign a contract with a player outside the transfer window and there will be relief at Chelsea that the saga is over and that the club were not seen to have caved in to Costa's behaviour.

The agreed price is a record fee for Atletico, with Costa's expected contract running to 2021.

Chelsea sources estimate that the fee is comparable to the initial amount before add-ons they are paying for Costa's replacement Alvaro Morata, who is vying with him for a place in Spain's World Cup team.

Costa feared that if he did not gain his move he would be left out of the squad.

Conte has confirmed that he first decided last January that Costa could go after the forward tried to force his way out - for the second time - and pushed for a move to China with the pair involved in a training-ground row.

His agent Jorge Mendes smoothed the situation over but Conte did not forget the disruption Costa caused.

That was followed by a text message sent in June, which reiterated that Costa was not part of Conte's plans for this season.

There was concern that this had weakened Chelsea's hand with Costa's lawyer Ricardo Cardoso threatening legal action over the handling of the player who himself claimed he was being treated "like a criminal".

Chelsea insist they have done everything by the rules ever since Costa did not turn up for pre-season training on July 10 and remained in his hometown of Lagarto, declaring the only club he wanted to play for was Atletico.

Despite his pantomime-villain image Costa was a popular figure at Chelsea and also a hugely effective striker for the club, winning two Premier League titles and scoring 59 goals in 120 appearances.

However, he never settled in England and yearned to return to Spain and Atletico, who he did not want to leave in the first place.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger insists there is no ulterior motive to starting Alexis Sanchez in minor competitions and leaving him out of Arsenal's Premier League side.

Sanchez was a surprise starter as the Gunners made hard work of beating Doncaster 1-0 in their League Cup third-round meeting on Wednesday night.

The Chile forward played the whole game, just as he did in last week's Europa League opener against Cologne.

Despite racking up plenty of game-time, Sanchez was only named on the bench in Sunday's battling draw at Chelsea and has yet to start a Premier League game this campaign.

"There is no disguised attitude on my side," Wenger said.

"I just try to get him back to full fitness and for me the Europa League and the League Cup is important as well.

"I just try to give him competition and to get him back to his best, because I gave him a long holiday and after that long holiday this year he had a real rest." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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