It's Conte's way or the highway for Costa
Ruthless manager won't tolerate striker's tantrums
The English Premier League's performance of the weekend came in a press conference.
Antonio Conte proved that he could have his cake and eat it, quite literally.
After Chelsea saw off the hapless Leicester 3-0 on the champions' home turf yesterday morning (Singapore time), their coach was hungry for more.
Actually, he was hungry for cake, pinching a mouthful from a stadium employee after admitting that he hadn't eaten all day.
The act was a Machiavellian display of assured authority, a reminder that Conte remains a master of all he surveys.
He's neither fazed nor threatened by his surroundings. If he wants a slice of cake, he takes it. If he wants to drop a sulking striker to prove a point, he will.
If he has to sell Diego Costa to reassert his power in the dressing room, he will not hesitate.
Costa's apparent appetite for destruction is no match for Conte's appetite for success.
In the press conference, Conte appeared more interested in eating his cake than feeding morsels of gossip to a voracious media pack.
If there is a problem, and I repeat if, with the players in my career, I prefer to sort the problem in the changing room...Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Costa had a back injury, he said, convincing almost no one.
Speculation must be settled in the dressing room, not a press conference. He would not discuss the Costa matter further.
Besides, he had already made his point, via a commanding 3-0 victory at the home of the champions, with Marcos Alonso pushed further forward and helping himself to a brace and Pedro Rodriguez nodding in a third.
CONTE VERSUS BILIC
Costa got the message. If he intends to take a slow boat to China for some easy cash in an exchange for a hard loss of dignity, Conte could hardly care less.
The Italian's business-like demeanour contrasted sharply with Slaven Bilic's quest for martyrdom last week.
The West Ham manager practically wept into his microphone as he lamented Dimitri Payet's refusal to play as the restless Frenchman agitated for a lucrative move away from East London.
Bilic rubbed his forehead and rambled on about a loss of loyalty, conveniently ignoring the spectacular hypocrisy as West Ham seek to convince Brentford's Scott Hogan and Hull's Robert Snodgrass to leave their respective clubs for huge pay rises.
As Bilic indulges in a popularity contest between himself, Payet and the indignant supporters, Conte grins mischievously and eats cake.
In such moments, he's like the Godfather playing with a cat while listening to murderous requests, clearly loving every aspect of the unforgiving job.
Chelsea and West Ham both won their games 3-0 without their petulant stars, but the stories behind their absences underline the key differences.
Payet went on strike and Bilic bleated to the press.
But Conte dropped Costa.
The Spanish striker had scored seven times in the Blues' last 10 away matches. His winning efforts against West Ham, Watford, Middlesbrough, West Brom and Crystal Palace earned Chelsea 10 extra points.
And yet, when the club doctors reportedly failed to find Costa's back injury, Conte supposedly lost his temper.
"Go to China," he allegedly shouted.
As the months pass in his inaugural season in English football and the victories accumulate, Conte's handling of the usual headaches has been uplifting, not to mention entertaining.
While Pep Guardiola's acolytes champion first-season syndrome and a need for at least a year to bed down one's principles, Conte revels in his powers of improvisation.
Leicester opted for a radical 3-5-2 formation to establish a three-man central midfield in a bid to surround and isolate N'Golo Kante.
No problem. Chelsea utilised the extra space along the left flank to release Alonso and Pedro.
Like a fidgety child prodigy with a Rubik's Cube, the coach loves a bit of problem-solving on the spot.
Costa's greed is merely the latest one.
Conte won't want his prolific striker to leave. But he won't be held to ransom either.
In a battle of wills, there's only one winner here.