A timer has been placed on Diego Costa's future as an Atletico Madrid player, with one of the club's most senior figures admitting it's only so long before the club will have to cash in.
Much to the joy of Europe's big guns—including Chelsea—Atleti sporting director Andrea Berta has admitted it is in the club's nature to sell the Vicente Calderon's superstars. Speaking to Italy's Tele Radio Stereo (h/t ESPNFC.com's Dermot Corrigan), Berta says:
Atletico is a club which, due to its nature, must sell every year. [But] we believe we can have our players at least one year more.
Diego Pablo Simeone passes on his characteristics to the players. The group identifies with him, and with his charisma. He can make all the players be important inside the team.
It's a bitter admission on the club's part. This season sees the Madrid outfit competing for La Liga's highest honour more fiercely than they have done since coming first in the Spanish top flight 18 years ago.
As things stand, Atletico are tied on 50 points with Barcelona at the table's summit, having netted 47 goals in 19 games, just six fewer than Barca and Real. Simeone's side do boast the best defence in the division, however, with just 11 goals leaked in that same period.
Costa is undoubtedly one of those players Berta refers to. The Brazilian native has scored 19 league goals this term, per Transfermarkt.co.uk, helping his club break up the duopoly Spain has become subject to season after season.
The Times' Oliver Kay has reported that Jose Mourinho's side are already in negotiations with Costa regarding a summer switch:
Chelsea's attacking line may appear to be one of Europe's most star-studded based on pedigree, with Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba all looked upon as some of the hottest assets in Europe at one point or another.
However, the trio have failed to hit form in recent seasons, and Mourinho is experiencing that drought firsthand. The trio have bagged just eight goals between them during the first 21 matches of the 2013-14 Premier League campaign, per WhoScored.
As Corrigan mentions in his report, Atletico currently have a significant debt of €400 million, and Chelsea are willing to ease some of that burden with a £40 million move for Costa's signature in the summer.
Should the 25-year-old go on to feature for the Spanish national team at the 2014 World Cup after switching citizenship, it's likely that more of the continental powers will raise their interest.
In recent years, the Spanish giants have had to sell off a raft of attacking talents, including Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and the aforementioned Torres.
Financial backing is the one area in which Chelsea can compete with just about any other club in the world, with Atletico not being able to rely on the support of an investor such as Roman Abramovich.
English football isn't going through its most powerful phase in terms of competing with Europe's other giants, but as long as a select few can continue to lure the world's finest, there will always be strength lurking on British shores.
From Berta's latest comments, this summer could once again show the unfortunate trend some continental hopefuls are forced to endure, with Chelsea hoping to poach Costa's services just when Atletico are once again showing promise.