On Saturday, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte squashed rumors of a bust up with star striker Diego Costa. After his side comfortably beat Leicester City the Italian somewhat surprisingly went into full blown diplomacy mode, insisting there were no problems with the player.
However, on Sunday it was reported even more emphatically that Costa wants out of Chelsea. Claims that the Brazilian-born striker ‘hates English football and the F.A’ followed by the, at this stage obligatory, imminent offer from the Chinese Super League. Tianjin Quanjian are reportedly ready to offer Costa £30 million per year after tax plus a signing-on fee of £5 million.
China is the money move for every professional footballer who values wealth over credibility, achievement and glory. However, Costa’s is an exceptional case. An anomaly in modern day, top-flight football, a player who has perhaps given more to the game than he has got in return.
He’s wealthy beyond comprehension, but the salary he commands now is thanks to his outstanding performances for Atletico Madrid. In actual fact that was his second stint at Atleti – during his first he scored no goals, played no games and was loaned out three times before finally being sold to Valladolid.
International football too has been cruel to Costa. He was overlooked by Brazil, his country of birth, for so long he actually became eligible for La Roja. Selected for Spain’s doomed 2014 World Cup campaign, Costa was lambasted. He clearly didn’t suit Spain’s famed tika-taka style of play. The start of his international career coincided with the end of Spain’s dominance.
He moved to Chelsea, plundering a lorry load of goals in the first half of his debut season in particular. In Jose Mourinho’s second season back at the Chelsea helm they coasted to the league title. Costa and Mourinho seemed made for each other: the big striker would abuse and stamp on opponents, his manager would turn a blind eye.
Last season the two fell out spectacularly, Costa’s form and Chelsea’s season tanked and Mourinho was once again out the door at Stamford Bridge.
This year, under Antonio Conte, Costa seemed happy, goals once again flowed.
When Chelsea traveled to White Hart Lane to face Spurs something was off. Chelsea were out muscled by a brawny Tottenham side, with N’Golo Kante in particular being bullied by Victor Wanyama. Costa too had an awful game. A couple of wayward shots were the sum of his contribution.
During that game there was an incident that embodies Costa’s career. He picked up the ball about ten yards inside the Spurs half with a possible break on. Struggling to get the ball under control, he and Pedro got their wires crossed. Pedro ran closer to Costa without crossing him to drag the defender away, opening the goal up for the striker. Had Costa controlled the ball immediately, Pedro would have made it across, but as it was he hesitated. The attack broke down, ending with the two berating each other.
Pedro studied the purest form of football at Barcelona’s La Masia academy. Costa has been shunted around the lesser La Liga sides before eventually making his mark under Diego Simeone. The two players polar opposites. Pedro relies on technique, balance and intricate passes to pick the lock of opposition defences. Costa, a bloodied battering ram, has reached the pinnacle of the game through pure grit, determination and abrasive defiance to the perceived beautiful game.
Since signing for Portuguese side Braga in 2006, he has spent years trying to barge his way out of obscurity. Doing so through sheer bloody-mindedness and the force of his character. He splits opinion throughout the game but he owes his career to nobody but himself. Including Chelsea.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena