Since making his move to La Liga, Diego Costa has developed a reputation as being a bit hot-headed. His various antics, off-the-ball tussles and petty fights have become somewhat accepted as an inevitability with him which, unfortunately in the view of some, detracts from what a talented player he is.
After joining Atlético Madrid from Portuguese side S.C. Braga, Diego Costa had a few loan spells at various smaller Spanish teams – something which he acknowledges was important for his career – before making a permanent move to Real Valladolid in 2009. A one year spell in Valladolid was ended when a buy-back clause was activated by then manager Quique Flores, meaning Costa would return to Madrid. Despite having endured a knee injury for the opening half of that first year back (in 2011-12), the Brazilian made a big impact on loan at Rayo Vallecano for the rest of the season, prompting the current Atlético manager Diego Simeone to keep him at the club for the 2012-13 campaign.
A fiery man himself, Simeone has forged a strong relationship with Costa at Atlético in this time. Guided by his manager, Costa has managed to turn his temperament into a huge asset for the team – he’s a powerful, strong and explosive player. Though he is capable of the graceful flair which goes hand in hand with many of the best Brazilians who ply their trade in Europe, it is mainly the physical elements on which his game is based.
His style when out of possession is invaluable too, especially for a side built upon Simeone’s own characteristics as a player. A more than willing runner, Costa is essentially a bully – harassing defenders, forcing them into mistakes, creating havoc. Combined with his ‘never say die’ and winning attitude, picked up from playing on the rougher streets of Brazil as a youngster, and this man is a real handful.
With Falcao at the club last season, Atlético’s system and his own versatility often meant he was deployed either out wide or just off the Colombian. Playing in a variety of roles is something which has helped him to develop as a player, with his defensive support, intelligent movement and aforementioned fighting attitude making him a real fan favourite early on. What the Brazilian has really added to his game in the last season and a half though, is what strikers are generally judged on at the end of the day – goals.
In his spell on loan at Rayo Vallecano in 2011/12 he made 16 appearances, returning 10 goals and 4 assists, something which showed Simeone just how good he is. An even more prominent return saw Costa return the faith showed in him by the Argentinian manager, reaching 18 goals and 14 assists in 39 domestic games last season for Atlético – very impressive for someone who wasn’t even their first choice striker. This included 8 in the Copa del Rey, a competition in which he was the top scorer, helping to lead his side to silverware over city rivals Real Madrid in the final. Of course there is much, much more to his style than goals as previously touched on, but when you look at him from this perspective he has improved his game hugely in recent times.
Diego Costa has been highly rewarded for his hard work and success. There was strong interest from Liverpool (shown by their €25 million bid) which he rejected, and in doing so he was given a new contract at the Vicente Calderón. The other thing he was given however, perhaps most importantly of all, was a strong statement of trust by Simeone – the reward of being Atlético’s main man in the wake of Falcao’s departure. Being deployed centrally (alongside David Villa in an unorthodox 4-4-2 system) has seen the best come out of Costa, with goals being fired in left right and centre so far this campaign. At the rate he’s going he’s fast making himself into one of the most feared and lethal strikers in Spain right now.
When Costa re-joined Atlético Madrid in 2010, two fellow South American attackers were plying their trade at the Vicente Calderón – Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán. Throw the likes of Christian Vieri, Fernando Torres and (most recently) Radamel Falcao into the mix, and the pedigree of strikers which Los Colchoneros has played host to in recent years is second to none. It’s fair to say that Atlético know a good striker when they see one – and Diego Costa is a very good striker.