“He needed a paternal hand. You had to have patience and understand certain behavior. He had to be educated. He’s a player who always shows his face and his enthusiasm is contagious. Diego, who developed in the street and played football there, has this inside him: ‘He who plays against me is my enemy, even if he’s my friend before and after becomes it again.’ And if he can kill, he kills.”
This characterization shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Chelsea forward Diego Costa manhandle people on the field. The words, scribbled in the Sunday People, are from former Atlético Madrid director of football Jesus Garcia Pitarch, the man responsible for Diego Costa’s move to Spain.
The former Atlético director frames Costa in Mike Tyson-esque terms. Essentially, he’s a man whose behavioral problems stem from a troubled, unstructured upbringing, one Pitarch sees as motivating Costa’s hunger and success.
Costa seems to agree. Thinking back on his days growing up in the streets of Brazil, the Chelsea striker notes:
“In the street you have to be the most cunning one. In that environment, I didn’t control myself. I got annoyed about everything.
“I remember a lot of games in which my friends and I ended up crying. I fought with everyone.
“I insulted everyone. I had no respect for the opposition. I thought I had to kill them. Boys who grew up playing in academies are taught to control themselves and respect others, but no one taught me otherwise. I didn’t have a school to teach me this. I was used to seeing players elbow each other in the face and thought it was the norm.”
Costa’s recollection and Pitarch’s observations don’t sound like strangers. They both reference a singular Costa, one who has to fight until the end, no matter the cost. Yet perhaps the most notable commonality between the pair’s views is talk of killing the opposition. Although you can assume the phrase is metaphorical, Costa’s record of playing on the edge or outside of the rules supports the notion of a player willing to do anything.
In January, Costa was handed a three-match violent conduct ban for stomping on Liverpool’s Emre Can. Even while denying any malicious intent, the Chelsea man added:
“I’m not saying I’m an angel. I’m no angel. You can see that. But every time I play I will play the same way because that’s the way I am. That’s what I need to do in order to support my family. That’s my bread and butter, also that’s what I need to do for this club and for the fans of this club, for the supporters and for all the people involved in this club.”
Shorthand: Diego’s gonna do Diego.
The themes around Costa are amazingly consistent. His reputation for being hot-headed precedes his move to Chelsea or even Atlético. Stories go back to Brazil, where Costa was found by super agent Jorge Mendes. The player was serving a four-month ban for punching a player and threatening a referee (yes, you read that right) when his club learned that Mendes was coming to town. Costa was shattered, but the ban was overturned in time for him to play; reversed not because Costa didn’t punch a player but because video showed Costa was punched first. Somehow, self-defense is a defense. Shorty afterward Costa was off to Portugal to join Braga.
Costa’s fury has also had its costs, but as much as Costa’s fury is frowned upon, his approach has also been his meal ticket. And when you come from where Costa came from, it’s hard not to ask a man to eat and feed his family the only way he knows how: by fighting.
Yet there has to be a limit. Somewhere. Sure, Costa gives his all on the field, but players like him raise fundamental questions: Can you give more than “all?” Is stomping on people too much? If you can kill, even metaphorically, should you?
We draw an interesting line. We want players to have these so-called killer instincts. We want to them to walk right up to the line, ready to give it all, ready to run through a wall for the team, but every now and then a monster creeps out. And it shouldn’t be surprising.
Diego Costa is more or less the player that everyone wants. Yet somehow he’s also the same player none of us want. I just hope, for his sake, that he can keep his performances up, because no one will have as much time for an unproductive man powered by this fury.