Shrewd Conte tames the Costa beast
Chelsea boss shows he is not just an astute tactician, but also a superb man-manager
Diego Costa has discovered that he cannot continue to play fast and loose with everyone in football.
Chelsea's maverick striker misguidedly believed that he could act above the laws of the game and those connected to it, but he failed to count on one crucial factor - the man whose name reverberated around Stamford Bridge in unison with his yesterday morning (Singapore time).
In Antonio Conte, the Spain international appears to have finally met his match.
The 2-0 win over Hull City cemented Chelsea's status as runaway EPL champions-elect.
But it was the warm embrace between the two at the end which proved that the Blues' latest incumbent had succeeded where several of his predecessors had failed in bringing the marksman back from the abyss.
WIELD OR YIELD
Managers of a weaker disposition may have considered bending to Costa's want to pursue the gravy train of the Chinese Super League in a bid to avoid disturbing what brief harmony existed within the climate of short-termism which Roman Abramovich had cultivated.
Those with a greater resolve would have, similarly, fallen on their sword for refusing to tolerate every trick and trademark of his incendiary repertoire designed to force their hand.
Recent history appeared to vindicate Costa's attempted shenanigans.
Stamford Bridge is not big enough to accommodate clashing egos, and rarely - if ever - was the man sitting in the home team dugout allowed to be the party which ultimately stayed the course.
Conte risked following those that came before him in traversing that familiar path which saw even Jose Mourinho, still considered something of a messiah in west London, fall afoul of player power mere months after delivering the club's first EPL title in five years.
Just 10 days after Tottenham had ended Chelsea's 13-game winning run, Costa had attempted to condemn Mourinho's successor to a similar fate.
But the tables have finally been turned on that decade-long tyranny by a man whose reputation for ruthlessness earned him the nickname of "The Godfather" in his homeland.
Attempting to fight fire with fire by resorting to cheap tactics, such as delivering veiled barbs through the media, would have needlessly played into the hands of Costa even more.
Holding firm, however, was a stance which could have potentially backfired on Conte, as the Italian will have been all too aware.
His compatriot Roberto Mancini discovered the perils of attempting to overrule a petulant player in Carlos Tevez while at Manchester City.
The stand-off culminated in the Argentinian, who later worked with Conte at Juventus, being dragged off the golf course to help City overhaul an eight-point margin in their bid to clinch the title in the 2011/12 season.
Conte's predicament with his own belligerent and want-away marksman was far greater .
It required him to draw on the strength of his man-management skills, rather than the knowledge of how to set up a successful three-man defence.
ADVERSITY TO ADVANTAGE
The Chelsea manager has turned a season-defining crisis into a catalyst which will almost certainly see his side crowned as the new EPL champions long before the final whistle is blown on May 21.
An about-face turn will have rankled Costa, a man who refused to believe in the art of apology.
But he cannot dispute that his time in the wilderness was not without merit.
He returned to Stamford Bridge just as he had left it; sharp, hungry and, above all, prolific.
It turned out that all he required was someone who would make him an offer that he could not refuse.