Thursday 26 April 2018

Stephen Hunt - Antonio Conte appears stuck in a moment he can't get out of

Chelsea will be weaker without Spanish international Diego Costa
Chelsea will be weaker without Spanish international Diego Costa
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

There have not been many better centre forwards in the Premier League era than Diego Costa. If, or when, he gets his move back to Atletico Madrid, he is going to be sorely missed by the champions.

But, after he decided on his self-imposed exile back in Brazil, if I had control of his fines, his wages and his future at Chelsea, I would leave him to rot there for the season and let him deal with the consequences.

There have not been many Premier League strikers like him. Defenders hate to play against him while everyone loves to have him in their team. And, if the stories are to be believed, Costa is very popular at Chelsea - receiving texts from his team-mates telling him how much he is missed.

He also received a text from his manager Antonio Conte, informing him he was no longer wanted at Stamford Bridge. First of all, it's a decision I can't believe. Secondly, it could have been handled better than that. It's a poor way to handle any player and Costa deserves better.

They have also paid a club record £70m (€77m) for his replacement Alvaro Morata, but they will still be weaker without the Spain international, who is desperate to go back to Atletico.

But for now, he is still employed by Chelsea, so if he cannot get his backside back to London to do as he is told and train with the youngsters, fine. Fine him some more. He is an absolute disgrace. Engineering the move you want is one thing, but there is a way to behave and treat your employers and the supporters with respect. Costa has thrown all of that out the window.

Swansea City fans may disagree with me here, but Gylfi Sigurdsson has shown it is possible to behave in the correct manner and still get your move. Yes, he was 'injured' and unavailable for the opening game of the season last week. But he didn't sit on his backside back home in Iceland.

When a transfer is inevitably going to happen, there is a line drawn between club and player, but you treat each other with respect. Once Sigurdsson got a whiff of a possible move to Everton, there was only going to be one outcome.

Compared to the situation Costa is now in, Sigurdsson's move to Everton has gone through smoothly and although Swansea won't be happy that they have sold their best player, at least it was done with minimum fuss and leaves Paul Clement with £45m to spend on replacements.

Apart from the Costa situation, the Chelsea camp is not a happy one. And the big chief Conte is not a happy camper. Last season, as they romped away with the title, I did warn that there was a danger Conte's methods, manner and discipline would only work in the short term. Eventually players get fed up with a coach who behaves as he does and they will decide whether they really want to play for him or not. This is a group of players that virtually downed tools defending their title two years ago under Jose Mourinho. If they do the same to Conte, he could be in real trouble.

Then there is the transfer business. Conte may have signed Morata but he clearly feels he needs another couple of players - starting with a striker. I find it strange they had not strengthened before the season started.

Still, that is nothing compared to the decision to sell Nemanja Matic to Manchester United. It would not make any sense if he was average last season, but no team that wins the league carries passengers and Matic was very good for the champions.

Mourinho, and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, knew what Manchester United were buying and the impact he could make at Old Trafford, particularly in freeing up Paul Pogba, who has looked very sharp in their games so far. It does not seem like a lot of money for a player of his calibre who could play there for a very long time.

Although it was a brilliant achievement winning the Premier League in his first season, this is now an entirely new challenge for the Chelsea boss, with the additional obstacle of the Champions League, which is Abramovich's main target.

Yet for all their difficulties and their shocking start against Burnley last weekend, I would much rather be in the Chelsea dressing room at Wembley today than Tottenham's.

Mauricio Pochettino has had an even more disappointing summer in the transfer market and while he is clearly not happy with their lack of business so far, the Spurs squad and their manager seem content.

It is fine to have a nice bond between the manager and his players, but it does not mean you are going to be successful. And Pochettino needs to win something for Spurs now.

That is not going to be easy this season, with the temporary move to Wembley. An away game at Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea always had a special feel to it. You might arrange a night out afterwards with the missus, family or friends. And you are playing at real, historical grounds.

They obviously don't come much bigger and better and more meaningful than Wembley. Many players will never get the chance to play there again in their careers, so of course they are going to be fully motivated. That's something Spurs players will have to deal with every second week this season and it will not be easy.

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