LONDON (AFP) – Combining predatory instincts with a street fighter’s approach to duelling with defenders, Diego Costa has emerged as the unapologetically snarling face of Jose Mourinho’s hugely successful Chelsea overhaul.
Prised away from Atletico Madrid for £32 million (US$49 million) by Mourinho, who surely recognised a kindred spirit in the fiercely competitive and occasionally spiteful Brazil-born Spain international, Costa has been everything the Chelsea manager could have dreamt of in an explosive debut season in English football.
If the bruising Didier Drogba was the blunt instrument Mourinho favoured to bludgeon opponents into submission in his first spell as Chelsea boss, in Costa, likely to be the key figure in Sunday’s League Cup final against Tottenham at Wembley, he has found an even more effective weapon.
After spending most of his first season bemoaning his lack of dynamic attacking options, Mourinho’s eye was taken with the way Costa fought fire with fire during Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final defeat against Atletico Madrid last season.
After receiving a typically full-blooded challenge from John Terry delivered with the intent of intimidating, Costa gamely took every bump and bruise inflicted by his markers, returning the compliment with some ferocious challenges of his own.
That tetchy encounter left a positive impression on Terry, who said: “I think everyone remembers the square-up we had in the first 10 minutes against Atletico Madrid and after it I thought ‘fair play’.” Costa’s ruthless drive comes from a desire to make up for lost time after a slow start to his career.
With 27 goals, Costa was the key figure in Atletico’s La Liga title triumph last year, and he also helped Diego Simeone’s side finish as Champions League runners-up.