HONG KONG Tianjin Quanjian have denied Chelsea striker Diego Costa has agreed a deal to move to the Chinese Super League after reports in Spain claimed the Brazil-born forward would move to China for a record-breaking $100m transfer fee in the close season.
Tianjin, coached by Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and last season's Chinese second division champions, denied they had entered into any negotiations with the prolific Premier League player.
"Regarding the widely spread rumour of the transfer of Chelsea player Diego Costa to Tianjin, we hereby declare that so far we have not communicated with Costa regarding a transfer," read a statement on the club's official Weibo account.
Spanish newspaper Cadena Ser reported on Thursday that Costa had met with officials from the club along with his agent, Jorge Mendes, and a deal had been struck.
The newspaper said the forward would join Tianjin from Chelsea for 90 million euros ($98.78 million), with Costa to receiving a salary of 30 million euros ($32.93 million) per year.
Should the deal be completed as reported, the transfer fee would set a new Asian record and eclipse the highest amount paid by a Chinese club for a foreign player, the 60 million euros Shanghai SIPG spent to lure Brazilian forward Oscar in January.
Tianjin have made no secret of their ambition, having already lured Belgium international midfielder Axel Witsel, who joined from Zenit St Petersburg, and former AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato to the port city.
They were linked with a move for Costa during the January transfer window and British media reports said the striker had rowed with, and been dropped by, coach Antonio Conte after a lucrative offer was rebuffed by the London club.
Costa looks set to win his second Premier League title in three years at Stamford Bridge with his 19 league goals helping Chelsea to a four point lead over Tottenham Hotspur with four matches remaining.
Asked last week about persistent speculation that Costa might leave Chelsea after the current season, Conte said such talk seemed to be an attempt to distract his players from their target of winning the title.
"We must be stronger than this speculation because we must be compact and think that our target is really important," the Italian said.
($1 = 0.9111 euros)
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)