LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte confirmed top scorer Diego Costa missed Saturday’s 3-0 win over Leicester City through injury but declined to say if he expected his top scorer to be available for their next Premier League match against Hull City.
The Italian chose his words carefully in an interview after the game, denying that he knew about a bid for the striker from China or a row between the pair in training last week, both of which were reported in multiple British media outlets.
Conte repeated his earlier statement issued by the west London club on Twitter that Costa, their leading scorer with 14 goals in 19 league games, injured his back on Tuesday and had not trained since.
“I think before the game I told the truth and I repeat the truth because I like to and I don’t lie,” said Conte.
“Diego stopped his training (on) Tuesday because he felt a pain in his back, for this reason he was not available. This is the truth.”
Asked whether he had clashed with Costa, or if the 28-year-old striker had refused to play, Conte said: “I don’t know about this because, I repeat, the truth is what I told you before. Now we see in the next week.”
Asked whether the club had received an offer from China for Costa, he added: “I don’t know anything about this, no.”
Earlier this week, Costa’s agent Jorge Mendes was pictured with Shu Yuhui, chairman of Chinese team Tianjin Quanjian, who British media said were preparing an 80 million pounds ($97.41 million)bid for Costa, who would get 576,000 pounds a week.
The Brazilian-born Spain striker has two years remaining on his contract and reports from ESPN Brasil on Saturday said he had no interest in going to China.
However, two Chelsea players, Oscar and John Obi Mikel, have already joined Chinese sides Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin TEDA in the January transfer window.
Regarding any possible problems with Costa, Conte added: “If there are problems, I prefer to solve them in the dressing room, not the press conference if, and I repeat if, there are problems.”
Asked if he expected Costa to be available for the Hull game at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 22, the Italian said: “We start next week on Tuesday and we will see.”
($1 = 0.8213 pounds) (Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ken Ferris)