The Chelsea FC striker’s actions in the London derby against Arsenal FC turned the tide in favour of the Blues, but his transgressions will eventually cost them a similarly big match.
Easily the most remarkable statistic from the game at Stamford Bridge was that Chelsea FC striker Diego Costa committed exactly zero fouls during his time on the pitch. Remarkable to those, that is, who are unfamiliar with his equally remarkable disciplinary record. For Diego Costa has not received a red card in league football since his time with Real Valladolid in the 2009-2010 season.
In the first half of the game on Saturday, the Blues’ provocateur-in-chief orchestrated the sending off of Arsenal FC defender Gabriel Paulista in a manner that unsurprisingly made the Brazil-born Spanish international the target of public opprobrium once again.
Having himself escaped any penalty for putting his hands on the face of the Gunners’ French centre-back Laurent Koscielny, Diego Costa was able to needle Gabriel to the point where, unlike his partner in defence, the Brazilian reacted.
A needless flick of his left leg in the direction of Diego Costa saw him receive his marching orders. Just like that, in a matter of minutes, Chelsea FC were effectively able to take complete control of what was the biggest game of their season.
That Mike Dean and his team are to blame for missing Costa’s infractions is not in question. However, Gabriel, who has faced Diego Costa before in their time in La Liga, has nobody to blame but himself for getting sent off.
Costa merely put out the bait. Perhaps in spite of himself, Gabriel took it. Had he followed the lead of his older centre-back partner, Arsenal FC would have had a significantly better chance of getting something out of what was a fairly even match, up until that incident.
The Chelsea FC striker, meanwhile, has generated a lot of debate in the aftermath of the derby. Much of it centres around the question of whether the striker was lucky to get away with his actions, or whether there is an element of intelligence to his skulduggery. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
His disciplinary record suggests Costa is smart enough to get away with his antics a majority of the time, but at the same time, there is every chance he would have been punished had the match officials seen the incident involving the Spaniard and Koscielny. An incident such as the one this weekend, and the public outcry that followed, is likely to focus the referees’ attention on the former Atl tico Madrid hitman during games in the future, which will make it harder for Costa to carry out similar transgressions with impunity.
While a lot of criticism directed at Diego Costa was valid, there was also plenty of sanctimonious outrage from Arsenal FC fans, as well as neutrals, about the ‘image’ of the game being tarnished by the forward’s foul play. Gunners’ fans do not have to cast their minds too far back to remember the likes of Martin Keown or even Patrick Vieira, neither of whom were saints.
Neither were ‘dirty’ players in the same way as Costa is perceived to be, but the similarity is that, like the Chelsea FC man, they often tread the thin line between aggression and violence, and occasionally crossed it. Quite simply, Diego Costa is far from the first ‘dirty’ player the English Premier League has seen, and will not be the last.
The key difference, perhaps, is that like former Liverpool FC striker Luis SuA?rez, Diego Costa has the ability to go from being the provocateur to playing the victim in a matter of seconds in an attempt to con the referee and get an opposition player in trouble — a view reflected by Keown on BBC’s popular Match of the Day program. It is this that rankles more than anything else.
Although Costa, unlike several other Premier League footballers, is yet to cause serious harm to a fellow professional, his underhand tactics in games are morally abhorrent to a large proportion of Premier League fans. In that sense, they would rather see an honest tackle that has greater potential to cause lasting damage, than watch the Chelsea FC striker attempt to bully defenders into submission using his now infamous methods.
It is not difficult to understand Costa’s attitude on the football pitch. Having been brought up playing street football in Brazil, the Spain international aims to win by any means possible. His skills honed by years of playing outside the cultured environment of a football academy, Costa has learned to walk the disciplinary tightrope without losing his balance.
The Blues’ striker feeds off the scuffles and angry exchanges with opposition centre-backs; that edge to his game is an inextricable part of his make-up as a footballer, and undoubtedly contributes at least in part, to his performances on the pitch. However, the almost patronising view that his upbringing from a rough, poor neighbourhood means that his behaviour must be accepted as a fait accompli, is one that manager Jos Mourinho must prove wrong.
The Portuguese cannot change Costa completely, that much is obvious. Mourinho must, however, get his No. 1 striker to curb his street-fighter instincts as much as possible, sooner rather than later — not only for the team, but also for the striker’s own sake.
The Blues’ boss has, along with his squad of players, vouched for Costa’s personality off the pitch as one of a constantly smiling, jovial, all-round nice guy. Given the barely-containable, irascible, snarling animal on the pitch that he is, however, nobody is buying what Mourinho or his players are selling.
While it is debatable to what extent the perception of people, particularly in the media, actually matters, there is no doubt that referees are influenced by what they see and hear. Logically, if Costa carries on his behaviour, fewer people will sympathise with him, and that includes media personnel and referees.
The Spain international’s reputation has already seen him denied several clear penalties since his arrival in England, and with the scrutiny over his actions increasing, the situation is only likely to get worse. His protestations, as well as those of his manager, will likely then fall on deaf ears.
Take, for instance, the incident involving Steven Naismith and Chelsea FC right-back Branislav Ivanovi in Everton’s 3-1 win at Goodison Park. With the scores 0-0, Naismith quite clearly lashed out wildly as Ivanovi tried to shield the ball out of play. One can only imagine the furore if that had been Diego Costa in his stead. Retrospective punishment would almost be guaranteed. To put it simply, Costa is doing himself and his team no favours whatsoever with his antics, and it is time both him and Mourinho addressed the issue.
More saliently, his antics make it that much more difficult for people to appreciate his footballing talent. Strip away the death stares, the verbal exchanges, the jostling and the shoving, and what you still have is one of the top strikers in the Premier League; a striker that has the ability to score world class goals, as evidenced by his volley against Maccabi Tel-Aviv less than a week ago in the Champions League match at Stamford Bridge.
In football’s dark arts, Diego Costa is the best artist. While he will win Chelsea FC plenty of matches — in part due to his skulduggery — if he continues to live so close to the edge, it is only a matter of time before Blues’ fans will be left to rue his actions after he costs them a big game.
Diego Costa cannot change who he is as a footballer, but he must attempt to change his ways.