Conte values ‘winning mentality’ over happiness

Date published: Friday 5th May 2017 2:09

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has told Diego Costa to focus on the bid for a Premier League and FA Cup double as speculation continues to surround the future of the Spain striker.

Costa missed January’s trip to Leicester amid reports his head had been turned by a lucrative offer to join Tianjin Quanjian in the Chinese Super League.

Conte publicly insisted Costa’s absence was due to a back injury.

Reports resurfaced this week of a move being agreed, although Tianjin took to Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – to deny any negotiations had taken place.

Conte did not clarify the situation on Friday at his media conference prior to Monday’s Premier League clash with Middlesbrough.

“I don’t know about this,” Conte said.

“I think now it’s very important for every single player, for every single person that works at Chelsea to be focused on the present.

“The present is very important for us. Now is more important than the future.”

Costa has scored 19 goals this season and 51 in 86 Premier League appearances since signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2014.

However, he has two years left on his contract, is 29 in October and Chelsea may be prepared to cut their loses and reinvest the funds in the squad.

Everton striker Romelu Lukaku has been the subject of speculation over a return to Chelsea.

There has also been speculation about the futures of Willian and Cesc Fabregas this week.

“This part of the season and this period it’s normal to cope with this situation, this speculation,” Conte added.

“For sure sometimes you can find the truth and a lot of the time it’s not true. The most important thing is for us to be focused.”

Conte has no doubt about Costa’s focus.

“I’m not worried about this,” Conte added.

“I see my players every day and I can see the right concentration, the right focus about my players.

“I think this part of the season, you arrive four games to go, you have the possibility to reach a fantastic target for us.”

Second-placed Spurs face West Ham on Friday night, seeking to cut their four-point deficit to Chelsea.

Conte is uncertain if he will watch and may instead go for dinner with his wife and daughter, who will be visiting from Italy.

The Blues have three games in eight days – at West Brom next Friday and on May 15 against Watford – before the season concludes against relegated Sunderland on May 21.

Conte said: “The pressure in this stage of the season is normal and you must cope with this.

“Every single player and the coach in the club has a good experience to face this moment.”

Defender David Luiz (groin) and midfielder N’Golo Kante (thigh) are injury doubts and will be assessed ahead of the Boro clash.

Fabregas had his 30th birthday on Thursday and has been influential this season.

But the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder is not guaranteed a starting spot for Chelsea.

“He’s a top player,” Conte said. “If he starts the game or if he comes on during the game, he’s always decisive for us.”

Asked if he can keep Fabregas happy, Conte said: “I like to underline a concept – that I mustn’t keep the players happy. We must win.

“You speak about ‘happy’. I speak about ‘to win’ and to work very hard.

“I know that to work very hard is not simple. Players are not always happy to work very hard.

“But I think my target is to put in the mind of my players a winning mentality, and a winning mentality doesn’t have to keep the players happy. It’s very difficult to keep 20 players happy.

“I don’t want this. I want players ready to fight and to try to put themselves in the team, to try to win together.

“Then, if you are happy or unhappy, I don’t care.”

Conte refuses to underestimate Boro, with Spurs ready to pounce on any slip-up.

He added: “This part of the season is not easy, every game is very tough because there is a lot of pressure.

“It’s important not to make mistakes, because it’s very difficult to recover.

“It won’t be easy. Middlesbrough are struggling to avoid relegation.

“We must be ready, ready to fight, ready to find the right way to take three points.

“Until the end, we can be sure we must go face to face with Tottenham.”

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