By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Chelsea striker Diego Costa was back in the news at the weekend (surprise, surprise) after altercations with Arsenal defenders Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny during the two teams’ clash at Stamford Bridge, which saw the former sent off. Chelsea eventually won the match 2-0 but the victory came at a price as the Spain forward has retrospectively been banned for three matches by the Football Association for his part in the fracas. So is Costa just misunderstood and unfairly targeted or is he a thug who deserves everything he gets, and more?
The first thing to be noted about Costa is that he scores goals at the highest level, and has done consistently since his final season with Atletico Madrid. Nevertheless, he feels the need to get involved in little personal battles with defenders which can lead to unsavoury incidents like the one at the weekend and his stamp on Emre Çan last season which earned him a three match ban. He was also no stranger to controversy during his time at the Vicente Calderon either. Which begs the question, how much use can Costa be if he is always suspended?
Obviously not much, but, like his predecessor as the Premier League’s enfant terrible Luis Suarez, if you take away his aggressive nature, do you blunt his effectiveness as a goalscorer? Maybe so. My theory is that Costa engages in these skirmishes to intimidate opposition defenders in quite a calculated way. If he puts his body about and lets defenders know that he’s there they are either likely respond in kind – which could lead to needless fouls being given away and possible yellow/red cards – or afford him more time and space on the ball.
However, like Suarez, Costa will find that he is now a marked man, literally and figuratively. Referees, whether they mean to or not, will treat Costa differently; defenders will know that he has a temper and that he can be riled and will take advantage of this.
But is he the villain the media are making him out to be? Now I like nothing better than to criticise Chelsea and their clown of a manager, but I think he’s a real asset to the Blues. Yes he made an error of judgement at the weekend and he deserved to be punished but I think he gives the Blues an edge like their last great striker, Didier Drogba. That doesn’t necessarily preclude him from being a villain – but therein lies the key.
Nobody plays the ‘them versus us’ card better than Jose Mourinho. He has used the tactic at every club he has managed and has been successful at all of them. However objectionable he may be (he is, very), he knows how to galvanise a team (although he has sounded a little deluded in recent weeks) and you can bet your bottom dollar that Mourinho will be pinning the various newspaper articles criticising Costa and writing off Chelsea to the dressing room door.
Costa is a villain: he’s a bit dirty, he’s niggly, he’ll use every trick in the book to earn his team an advantage. Like Suarez before him, he’ll be despised by 19 Premier League clubs around the country. But he will be loved in that one corner of West London and, like Suarez again, can turn adversity into success. So, as much as it pains me to say it, don’t rule out Costa being Chelsea’s hero this season.