As Conte conducted his pre-match press conference to preview Saturday’s Premier League game against Leicester, the Italian’s expression soon soured as Costa’s name came back up in the conversation.
The Chelsea coach’s first response to a question about Costa’s situation said it all. “No, no news about him,” he replied abruptly.
Chelsea, Conte and Costa are all seeking a resolution for the striker to part ways and find pastures new.
But unless a Turkish club manages today to secure a late loan deal – a switch to Fenerbahce has already appeared to have fallen through – then the status quo will remain.
Antonio Conte bursts out laughing over Diego Costa
That means Costa is set to be a member of Chelsea’s squad, albeit in name only, until the new year when former club Atletico Madrid will make another attempt to buy him back.
Costa is still AWOL in Brazil and is refusing to return to the English champions. It was reported this week that his car had been moved from the senior car park at Chelsea’s training ground to the one the youth players use.
While confirming it is true, Chelsea insist it was not part of an agenda against the 28-year-old, but simply because the first team car park is too small for a car to take up a space on a permanent basis.
When Conte was pressed on the matter though and stories that Costa’s locker has been cleared out, a club spokesman stepped in to reply on the Italian’s behalf. “Nothing new on that,” he said.
What about whether he is still being fined for failing to report back to the club? “Nothing new on that,” the club spokesman repeated. “Nothing to report.”
Even the possibility of Costa being subject of a late loan to a Turkish club was given short shrift, although this time Conte did speak up.
“I don’t know,” he growled. “My focus is on English football and not Turkish football.”
Costa was named in Chelsea’s Premier league squad last week, but clearly the club had to be seen not to be blocking his pathway back into action.
A more significant gesture was that he was left out of the Champions League squad. Firstly he is unlikely to be fit for many of the group stage games anyway, but the Spain international will be cup-tied for the latter stages and Atletico, who are in Chelsea’s draw, obviously don’t want that.
The problem is as far as Costa is concerned, Chelsea are now damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Should he stay on strike in South America, then Conte and the club will still be asked for updates about it on a weekly basis, as the last two months have proved.
However, should Costa finally give into pressure from the Spain national team and Atletico, who want him to get in shape as soon as possible for their own reasons, by moving back to the capital, then Conte will be faced with an awkward situation at Cobham.
Having made it clear that Costa is not part of his plans – the latter says he was only told in June, Conte says the decision was made in January – it is hard to imagine the Chelsea coach backtracking now.
Yet if Costa is on site working with the senior or youth players, the atmosphere is bound to be tense. It should be pointed out that Costa has a lot of friends inside the dressing room.
There appears to be no end in sight to this soap opera, but at least Conte has some more new additions to be happy about.
In pictures | Chelsea transfer signings 2017-18
1/6 Alvaro Morata
(Real Madrid, undisclosed)
2/6 Danny Drinkwater
Chelsea FC via Getty Images
3/6 Davide Zappacosta
Chelsea FC via Getty Images
4/6 Tiemoue Bakayoko
5/6 Antonio Rudiger
6/6 Willy Caballero
(Manchester City, free)
In the week before the transfer deadline, Conte told Standard Sport it would be ‘impossible’ to cope with seven fixtures in 21 days this month with his current squad.
Only Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta have joined since then, to add to the quartet of Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Willy Cabballero acquired earlier in the window.
This afternoon he spoke in glowing terms about the new duo, but still expressed a word of caution over whether the group is strong enough to compete on four fronts.
“This question is very difficult to answer,” he admitted. “I think we have to wait until the end of the season and then we’ll see.
“For sure, I repeat, the club tried to do their best in this transfer window. Now the window is closed and it’s time to continue to work, time to work with these players, and I’m very happy to work with the players we have.”
Starting with Leicester tomorrow, this month Chelsea also have two Champions League games against Qarabag and Atletico, a League Cup tie with Nottingham Forest and two tough Premier League fixtures with title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City.
When asked by Standard Sport if this run of games will give an indication over whether he has enough quality and numbers to challenge, he said: “Yes, for sure. You have to analyse every game and then try to have an idea, a plan, in your mind.
Chelsea’s Champions League destinations 2017/18
1/9 Olympic Stadium, Baku
2/9 Olympic Stadium, Baku
3/9 Olympic Stadium, Baku
Getty Images for BEGOC
4/9 Stadio Olimpico, Rome
5/9 Stadio Olimpico, Rome
6/9 Stadio Olimpico, Rome
7/9 Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
8/9 Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
9/9 Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
“But you know very well that it’s very important to analyse game by game. After the Leicester game, I don’t know if there’ll be injuries or not, suspensions or not.
“Sometimes you are very good preparing your plan but then you have to change it. It’s very important to play game by game, be focused game by game, and then try and prepare the next game.”
But while Costa’s saga drags on, Conte will surely find some of his focus always lies elsewhere.