Antonio Conte has thanked Diego Costa for his contribution to Chelsea’s history in his three years at Stamford Bridge.
Costa’s 52 Premier League goals helped secure two titles in three years before a summer text message from Conte called time on his Chelsea career.
A fee has now been agreed for the Spain striker to return to Atletico Madrid in the winter transfer window, and Costa this week insisted he bears no grudge over his treatment.
The pair’s sole season together was punctuated by a training-ground row at the start of the year but ended with the title, and speaking ahead of Saturday’s game against Stoke, Conte said: “I don’t forget that we won together.
“I repeat – for sure we want to thank him for his effort last season, not only last season but in the period he played for Chelsea.”
The Blues boss ignored repeated invitations to expand on his feelings towards Costa, insisting “the past is not important” and preferring instead to talk about several of his current players.
Among those up for discussion were Eden Hazard, and Conte confirmed his playmaker is back in contention for a regular starting spot having lasted 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.
Hazard was part of a mix-and-match line-up featuring young players Kenedy and Charly Musonda, who both scored in a 5-1 win.
Conte called both “good prospects” and said he detected a special atmosphere in the dressing room after the game, adding: “There was a good link between young players and old players.
“I think this is the right way because the season is very long, and for sure I have to give opportunities to these players to show me they are learning, improving and ready to help us in the Premier League, Champions League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.”
One young player not at Chelsea this season is Kurt Zouma, who is on loan at Stoke after returning from a cruciate injury in the second half of last season.
Zouma is ineligible for Saturday’s game but Conte hopes to speak with the centre-half, who remains part of the Blues’ future having signed a six-year contract in the summer.
He said: “In this specific case I think the best way for him is to send him on loan and to play regularly. but you know very well he renewed his contract with Chelsea for many years. This shows we trust him.”