Fresh from an outstanding season in Spain, where his 36 goals had propelled Atlético Madrid to a first La Liga title since 1996 and to within seconds of a maiden Champions League crown, Diego Costa arrived at Stamford Bridge for £32 million. Brazilian by birth, Costa had caused an enormous wave of controversy in his homeland after opting to take Spanish citizenship and a subsequent place in Spain’s squad over the opportunity to represent the Seleção in a home World Cup in 2014. An early exit for Spain ensued but, undeterred, Costa arrived in the English capital tasked by manager Jose Mourinho with scoring the goals that had eluded many of his predecessors the previous season. And with a Premier League record of seven goals in his first four starts he took to the physical nature of England’s top division with typical aplomb. Costa began his nomadic rise to the top via the lower echelons of Portuguese and Spanish football, before establishing himself as a force under Diego Simeone’s rejuvenated Atléti. Affectionately nicknamed "El Cholo" (the Beast), his pace, power, aggression and deadly finishing have swiftly seen him become a crowd favorite at the Bridge.
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About the Author
Chris Davies is the author of Deadly Dimitar and King Carra.
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Diego Costa 'The Beast'
By Chris Davies
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Chris Davies
All rights reserved.
BLUE IS THE COLOUR
'People always used to say that my game would fit the Premier League perfectly and so the opportunity to sign for an extremely famous club like Chelsea made me super-excited.' Diego Costa, Champions League Magazine
When referee Lee Mason blew his whistle for the final time to signal a 1–0 victory for Crystal Palace over Chelsea in March 2014, it heralded renewed hope for Tony Pulis' men in their fight against relegation, but for Chelsea Football Club, the end of their challenge for the Premier League title.
Although the defeat, at the tail end of the 2013–14 campaign, didn't mathematically rule José Mourinho's team out of the title race, it left them relying completely on other results, results which would not ultimately go their way. And following the team's abject performance at Selhurst Park, Mourinho made a thinly veiled attack on his team's forwards for their continued profligacy in front of goal:
[Branislav] Ivanovic, [César] Azpilicueta, [Gary] Cahill, [John] Terry — they perform in the sun, on small pitches, on big pitches, against aggressive teams, not aggressive teams, possession teams and not possession teams. They perform every game from one day to last day. But you have other players who are fantastic in some games and they disappear in others.
Mourinho was understandably frustrated. The defeat against Palace coupled with an earlier loss on the road at Aston Villa and a third damaging result against Sunderland on 19 April had cost the club the chance of winning the title in his first season back in charge of the Blues. And it was as clear as day for all to see why. The manager knew it. The club's fans knew it. Television pundits and journalists never tired of mentioning it. But perhaps more significantly, the men under the spotlight knew it. Chelsea Football Club had almost certainly thrown away a golden opportunity to steal the 2013–14 Barclays Premier League title from under the noses of eventual champions Manchester City and the club of so many of the neutrals, Liverpool. There was an obvious reason for their capitulation and everybody could see it.
Their forward line consisting of £50 million man Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba had between them contributed just nineteen league goals for the season. Meanwhile, Manchester City trio Edin Dzeko, Sergio Agüero and Yaya Touré combined to score fifty-three, while Luis Suárez and former Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge between them scored an astounding fifty-two for second-place Liverpool. Chelsea's main problem and reason for ultimate failure was obvious to everyone. Their forwards didn't contribute enough to the cause.
Following the disappointment in south London and ahead of the club's Champions League quarter-final tie with French champions Paris Saint-Germain, Mourinho reiterated his belief that certain players had cost his team dearly throughout the campaign:
Clearly, during the season, we have players up and down in relation to the profile of the match. Stamford Bridge is better than away. Playing away against Arsenal or City or United or Liverpool is one thing, and another thing is to play Crystal Palace away or West Bromwich away or Stoke City away.
Nine years earlier, in his first season in west London and with the club celebrating their centenary season, the Portuguese had led Chelsea to their first championship success since their only other title win fifty years before. And after an ultimately disappointing campaign in 2014, which saw them finish third in the table and devoid of any silverware, Mourinho knew what he had to do. In the summer of 2014, empowered by Roman Abramovich's millions, he would do whatever was necessary to put Chelsea back on top. Waving goodbye to Stamford Bridge would be the club's record goalscorer Frank Lampard, long-serving left back Ashley Cole and David Luiz who joined Paris Saint-Germain for £50 million. With Torres' departure on the last day of the transfer window, a clean sweep of the club's strikers was completed when he followed Eto'o, Ba and Romelu Lukaku out of the exit door.
Fresh blood was required and established quality was the order of the day. Chelsea's squad already boasted a spine of top quality players including John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard. But they were short in vital areas and Mourinho set about resolving the team's deficiencies as soon as the transfer window reopened at the start of the summer. And his first major signing would be a player who had just inspired his Spanish employers to win their first league championship triumph in eighteen years. Brazilian-born Diego Costa was that man; his £32 million release clause the fee. And he was a player Mourinho knew well.
The Spanish international striker had joined Atlético Madrid in Spain's Primera División back at the tail end of 2006 when he was a raw eighteen-year-old. Following nomadic spells on loan at various clubs around Spain's lower reaches, the arrival of Diego 'El Cholo' Simeone as Atlético's new head coach in December 2011 finally sparked Costa's professional career into life. He had suffered a serious knee ligament injury during pre-season training ahead of the 2011–12 La Liga campaign, but after spending the second half of the season out on loan regaining his fitness at Rayo Vallecano, he returned to the Vicente Calderón stadium ready to make his mark.
Following initial first-team rejection from Simeone, he proceeded to help Atlético break their fifteen-year winless hoodoo against city rivals Real Madrid, managed at the time by Mourinho, whilst winning Copa del Rey and La Liga titles in successive seasons. Costa had become a key player for Atlético in those two seasons on the red and white side of the Madrid divide, scoring fifty-six goals in all competitions. His spirit and sheer will to win was shared by Simeone and mirrored his own philosophy on football. He was a winner, willing to do the unglamorous jobs on the pitch in addition to banging home goal after goal. He was the team's first defender.
Simeone loved him and christened Costa 'El Cholo', after himself — 'the beast'. And Costa is in illustrious company. It is a nickname that has been adopted by many physical sporting stars in recent times. The Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, Tendai Mtawarira, the South African rugby union international, and Manu Vatuvei, the 250lb New Zealand rugby league winger all bear the same imposing nickname.
Having learnt his trade playing street football in his hometown like fellow South Americans Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez before him, Costa is an old-school footballer born perhaps in the wrong era. In today's football world, it is almost impossible to breathe on somebody without incurring the wrath of the crowd, the referee and the media. And Costa has become another victim of the success of modern-day football where every movement on the pitch is scrutinised to the maximum.
Back in the sixties, seventies and eighties, things were different. Football was different and more physical. In some ways it was a more innocent time where diving and feigning injury rarely happened as it does so often in today's game. Every team had their hard men ready to mix things up when necessary. There was Ron 'Chopper' Harris at Chelsea; Don Revie's Leeds United had Billy Bremner and Norman 'Bites Yer Legs' Hunter, while Liverpool, the dominant team of the seventies and eighties, boasted Graeme Souness and Tommy 'The Anfield Iron' Smith in their ranks. Football was full of hard men, willing to do whatever it took to win. Decades later, Costa nevertheless came from that very same school of thought. He hates to lose and Spain-based La Liga expert Sid Lowe conjured up a fantastic scene of domestic non-bliss concerning Costa's passion for winning in an article for the Guardian newspaper:
Diego Costa says he never takes his work home with him. Which is probably a good thing. If he did, he might walk through the door, goad the dog with a stick, surreptitiously elbow his wife out of the way on the stairs, shrug his shoulders innocently as she lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom, and whisper insults to his children, look the other way and whistle when they burst into tears.
Football fans care more about their individual clubs than anybody else, including the owners, managers and players. They want to see people running, managing and playing for their team who care, or at least show that they care as much as they do. Some do. Many don't. For many involved in the game, money is the overriding motivation behind their desire to play football. There are still some in the game whose loyalty to their employer and to living out the dreams of the fans matter more than the riches on offer. And while the era of the 'one club for life' players appears to be almost over, there are those out there like Costa who give those on the terraces hope that they genuinely do care about what happens on the pitch.
Of course, in addition to managing Real Madrid against Costa's Atlético and watching the big man score a superb equaliser in the 2013 Copa del Rey final between the two city rivals, Mourinho had also watched Costa give Chelsea's central defensive partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill first-hand experience of his physical attributes and uncompromising style in the semi-final of the Champions League in 2014. He also dispatched a nerveless and decisive penalty in the second leg at the Bridge to put Atlético on their way to the final. Mourinho, with his team out of league contention and now out of the Champions League, knew he had found the perfect man to lead his team from the front. Arriving on the back of a disappointing World Cup with Spain (Costa had been granted Spanish citizenship in September 2013), where the hosts crashed out at the first phase and the Brazilian public jeered his every move, Costa, who was nominated in a twenty-three-man shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d'Or award, was delighted to touch down in the English capital ready for the new challenge that lay ahead.
I am very happy to sign for Chelsea. Everybody knows it is a big club in a very competitive league, and I am very excited to get started in England with a fantastic coach and team-mates. Having played against Chelsea last season I know the high quality of the squad I am joining. I would like to thank everybody at Atlético who made me into the player I am; it was an incredible time for me, but now I am starting a new adventure and I hope to win many trophies with Chelsea.
After securing his main target for the summer in the opening days of the 2014 summer transfer window, Mourinho revealed in his press conference ahead of Chelsea's opening league match with Burnley that he had actually missed the opportunity to sign Costa way back in 2006–7 when he was playing at Sporting Braga: 'To be fair he was in Portugal [at Braga] at eighteen and I never looked at him. So everybody was blind including myself. He went to Atlético and [Sergio] Agüero was the superstar.'
In addition to bringing in their new number 19, Thibaut Courtois returned from a highly successful three-year loan spell at Atlético along with his team-mate Filipe Luís, while Mourinho also snapped up inspirational former Arsenal lynchpin Cesc Fàbregas, club legend Didier Drogba, and QPR and France forward Loïc Rémy in an attempt to bring the Premier League and Champions League crowns back to the King's Road.
In his first four games in the physically demanding English Premier League, Costa got off to a flying start, banging in seven goals including a hat-trick against Swansea City to surpass Sergio Agüero and Mick Quinn's record of six goals from their first four matches for Manchester City and Coventry City respectively.
Since arriving in England, Costa has continued to adopt the abrasive take-no-prisoners style of football that he grew up playing on the streets of his hometown, Lagarto. It is a style that has got him into trouble on several occasions in the past, but as the old adage says, if you take the devil out of a player, you ruin his game. The same was said about Wayne Rooney back in his early days and it can be said about Costa. That bite and aggression is what makes him so fascinating to watch. Indeed, never was this controversial style of play — controversial today, anyway — more evident than in the League Cup semi-final clash between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in late January 2015.
With the tie finely balanced from the first leg, stamping incidents involving Costa and Liverpool players Emre Can and Martin krtel overshadowed an absorbing contest which saw the home team prevail to advance to a first Wembley final since Mourinho's return to his spiritual home. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville described the incidents in his newspaper column for the Telegraph as being 'a bit naughty'; that is exactly what Costa is, a bit naughty, but nothing more. Yes, he takes things to the limit. Yes, he sometimes crosses the line. But that is why he is so fascinating to watch and why he divides opinion in the football community.
Everybody it seems has an opinion on him. You either love him or hate him. Those who love him, or at the very least like or admire him — other than the supporters of the clubs he has quite literally given his heart and soul for — would probably include the older generation of football fan who were used to seeing tough men of the ilk of Harris, Hunter and Souness et al. Supporters of opposition clubs and the younger generation of fans who are now suffocated by how controversy-free the game should be, probably loathe him. However, if you were to conduct a survey and ask every football fan in the land if they would have Costa in their team given the chance, more likely than not the vast majority would take him in a heartbeat.
But Costa won't change. He's already admitted it. It's not in his make-up to change. He is what he is, take it or leave it. Mourinho and the Chelsea fans will most definitely take it, no questions asked. And speaking to the Daily Telegraph in late January 2015, Costa rationalised how he sees football and how he sees his impact on the game:
I'm always loyal, I always go 100 per cent, I always go on the limit but I think the people that think that I am a violent player, it's because they interpret football a different way; they see it in a different way. Back in the old days there used to be way more contact and a lot of things that were permitted. These days everyone is looking at it and I don't think that is good for the game. I have a go at defenders and they have a go at me. We argue. Whatever happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. After the game I shake hands with the defender. Job done, I go home, he goes home. We're all mates. It's all good. That's how I see football. That's how I play football. I'm not going to change it — football is a contact sport.
And that is what most football fans love to hear, a player who actually likes a bit of contact in the game and is happy to give back what he has to take during a match. He may commit fouls, act 'a bit naughty' as Neville described it and cause controversy at times, but he is also one heck of a football player. Helping Chelsea to beat Tottenham Hotspur and pick up the first silverware of the season with the League Cup triumph at Wembley in March 2015, the chants of 'Diego, Diego' from the Blues supporters in the pouring rain would have been music to the ears of a player who strives to do his best every time he takes to the turf.
Twenty goals in just twenty-six Premier League appearances, one more than Torres, Eto'o and Ba could muster between them the previous campaign, and his all-action never-say-die attitude helped to inspire Jose's Chelsea to a fifth league title in the club's long and decorated history and also saw him taken to the hearts of the Blues faithful.
A second league title in successive seasons was the reward for Costa's hard work and goals. He is quite simply a winner. He's been hung, drawn and quartered so many times during his colourful career. However, if you were to ask him if he is bothered by the bad press he so often receives, his will to do the best he can for himself, the team and his family would probably mean that he couldn't care less. As he admitted in an interview with Four Four Two, his life off the pitch is completely in contrast to his life on it:
I'm a different beast off the pitch. I'm relaxed and very happy. On it, I fight to continue to lead the life I have off it. Every time I score I'm happy for myself, of course, but I know it makes those I'm closest to more so, because they depend on me for their own lives.CHAPTER 2
ADEUS BRASIL, OLÁ PORTUGAL
'I always had to be Ronaldo. I tried to copy everything he did. Why? Because he was a beast, the best in the world.' Costa reveals Brazil's legendary striker was his idol while he was growing up in Lagarto, Sergipe
In the north-east of Brazil lies the state of Sergipe. It is the smallest of twenty-six states in the country and has the vast Atlantic Ocean to the east. The largest city in Sergipe is Aracaju, the state capital, and some 75 kilometres farther inland is the small and unremarkable town of Lagarto. The town is home to more than 100,000 people and the home town of Diego da Silva Costa. Lagarto is a municipality, one of 5,570 in the country, which means it has the constitutional power to approve its own laws and collect taxes while also receiving funds from the (Sergipe) state and the Brazilian federal governments. The economy of Sergipe is primarily supported by the production of sugarcane and oranges, yet the biggest export to come out of the state and Lagarto in particular is probably the footballer Diego Costa, Brazil by birth, international striker for Spain at the time of writing and top goal scorer in the English Premier League for his club, Chelsea.
Excerpted from Diego Costa 'The Beast' by Chris Davies. Copyright © 2015 Chris Davies. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: BLUE IS THE COLOUR,
CHAPTER 2: ADEUS BRASIL, OLÁ PORTUGAL,
CHAPTER 3: THE LOAN SHARK,
CHAPTER 4: A STEP UP IN CLASS,
CHAPTER 5: WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY,
CHAPTER 6: COMEBACK KID,
CHAPTER 7: THE REAL DIEGO,
CHAPTER 8: EL CHOLO ('THE BEAST'),
CHAPTER 9: CAMPEONES!,
CHAPTER 10: TUG OF WAR,
CHAPTER 11: FORWARD THINKING,
CHAPTER 12: TITLE CHARGE,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,