LONDON — Diego Costa’s Chelsea career could be coming to a fiery abrupt end, in a setback to the English Premier League leaders’ pursuit of the title.
The league top-scorer has not traveled with Chelsea to Leicester following a dispute with the coaching staff, and won’t be playing against the champions on Saturday, a person familiar with the situation told The Association Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity on Friday because they were not authorized to discuss Costa being dropped from the team.
The discord between Antonio Conte’s side and Costa follows the striker becoming aware of interest from China, the person said, referencing the country’s wealthy and ambitious Super League.
Costa’s only response on Friday was an Instagram post which featured the message “Come on Chelsea!!!” followed by a heart symbol.
The Daily Mail newspaper’s website first reported on Friday that the dispute was over whether Costa was injured.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported online that Costa is aware of a Chinese club willing to pay him more than $30 million a year, but Chelsea is determined to hold onto its most influential player. The Spain international, who joined Chelsea from Atletico Madrid in 2014, has 14 goals in the league this season and is under contract until 2019.
Costa has been a vital component in Chelsea’s revival after the team went from champions to an 11th-place finish last season.
Chelsea has a five-point lead over Liverpool after its 13-match winning streak was ended by Tottenham in the team’s last league game.
Chelsea has already sold two players — John Obi Mikel and Oscar — to Chinese Super League clubs in the last month. Chelsea made 60 million pounds ($73 million) just from Shanghai SIPG for Oscar. Despite the windfall, Conte said he hoped the club would not lose any more players to Chinese clubs, which spent more than $600 million on foreign players in 2016.
“The Chinese market is a danger for all,” Conte said last month, “not only for Chelsea, but all the teams in the world.”