DEBATE – Does Diego Costa embody everything that is bad about football?

Now the dust has settled following the fracas that took place between Costa, Gabriel and Kolscieny, the FA have taken restrospective action to severely reprimand both the controversial Chelsea forward and his Brazilian sparring partner. However, repeated chiding has done little to alter Costa’s divisive style. Diego Costa pushes boundaries, but does his flagrant bad behaviour represent the worst side of the beautiful game?

Isabelle Boulert : Yes, Diego Costa typifies the worst qualities of the traditional football lout.

During the now notorious clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, Diego Costa did not technically commit a single foul. He did, however, manage to not only make a complete mockery of referee Mike Dean, but completely derail the game, draw attention away from a highly significant result for both teams and has now forced his manager’s hand tactically to ensure his presence won’t be missed during the inevitable 3 match ban he subsequently received for his behaviour.

Diego Costa represents everything abhorrent about the modern game. Until we stop mistaking his ugly petulance for a Jekyll and Hyde style of tortured genius, we silently condone his behaviour and will commit not only his unmistakable talents but the spirit of fair play to the history books.

I must start by saying I have no problem with the rambunctious physicality of a strong forward. As with the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, Diego Costa leaves defenders leaping for cover in order to extricate themselves from the force of nature bearing down on them. When he plays football, watching Diego Costa can be an absolute joy. It can also be a sour-tasting machiavellian nightmare.

The Spaniard epitomises the worst elements of the modern footballer. Short-sighted and reactionary, his overpayment and fame land him with a dangerously distended ego and an over-confidence that will eventually deflect from his undeniable skill.

Last week, Sir Alex Fergusson admitted that in 2010 he had “briefly flirted” with the idea of signing Mario Balotelli but concluded the risk was too big to merit such a purchase. Balotelli is another undeniably great footballer, but his success, and therefore the pleasure gleaned from any lover of the beautiful game, has been hampered by his tantrums and cheating.

Costa may be pushing boundaries now but he is also burning bridges for the future. At his best Costa, like Balotelli, is an enormous crowd pleaser. However, what delights fans most is not his displays of temper and wanton disregard for the rules but his superb right foot. If Costa continues to persevere with his antics we must conclude he is better suited to the world of WWE than the top flight of football. If the forward decides that football is indeed the game for him, he must emulate former Blue Didier Drogba instead of relying on Mourinho’s boundless love of spin. In order to to continue to improve and be given the chance to interact with the best players in world football on a long term basis, it is vital that Costa changes his style.

Drogba, like Costa, revels in the physicality of the game. Although it took him several seasons to find the expected level of exuberance in the Premier League, this reformed cheat grew not only in his abilities on the pitch but in his capacity as a team player and leader.

Amid rumours of a spat with ‘Captain Leader Legend’ John Terry, wayward Diego repeatedly fails to put the needs of a somewhat embattled Chelsea ahead of his personal whims. The West London club may have lost sight of once more holding back to back Premier League titles, but if they stand a chance of improving on their shaky start they must form a coherent unit. Alphabetically, there may be no ‘i’ in team (or in Chelsea for that matter), yet of all the clubs to pander to Costa’s selfishness, the Blues must be the worst culprits.

Diego Costa is superbly talented. However, he seems bent on pathetically squandering the opportunities he has because of his disregard for the rulebook and failure as a team player. Costa’s stubborn selfishness and quick temper come together to form an arrogant cheat hellbent on personal gratification rather than his team’s success. He is anathema to the very ideals that form the foundation that football has been built on.

Charles Nurick : No, Costa represents the ideal pairing of physical skill and psychological tactics.

A lot has been made of Diego Costa’s play in recent days following Chelsea’s high-profile match against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. But despite his undoubted talents as a footballer and record as a goal scorer, the Spaniard has come under the microscope for less desirable attributes of his game.

Consistent and scrappy clashes against a number of Arsenal players – most notably Gabriel and Laurent Kolscieny – saw the gloss taken off an important Chelsea win, with the former receiving a red card for his reaction against Costa.  Although it has since been repealed, he has still been reprimanded with a one-match ban and £10,000 fine. To contrast, the Chelsea man is now facing a three-match ban for violent conduct.

Costa has been called a cheat on numerous occasions, with even his teammate Kurt Zouma saying: “Everyone knows Diego and this guy likes to cheat a lot.” Hardly a great indictment of your play when even those supporting you admit that you play out with the laws of football.

Furthermore, many pundits and fans have admonished his behaviour, calling it disgraceful, unacceptable and it having no place in the footballing world.  In their eyes, he needs to change his play, buck up his ideas, and probably attend a few anger management classes, or not be playing at all.

They are wrong. Costa is an easy target, one who has no reason to change his style of play, or be under obligation to do so either. There is no denying that the striker manages to antagonise and get under the skin of opposition players. There is also no denying that it is very effective. His confrontational nature is what makes him so good at what he does. Not only does he have a the physical attributes to give defenders nightmares, but he also tortures them mentally in the hope that they blow a fuse and retaliate. One can only dread what he is like at monopoly.

Admittedly, he does sometimes appear to concentrate more on winding up opponents rather than actually playing the game, but regardless, he remains a handful for whoever is against him. His ability to push the limits of the rulebook is as much a part of his game as his deadly right foot, and he should be applauded for it. He creates debate, provides drama and, ultimately, entertains. If all players were jolly good sports about everything we would soon lose interest.

Football, like all sports, needs its villains, otherwise it becomes just one big, bland, vanilla mess that has about as much personality as piece of wood. It does not matter how good the top players are; if they are dull, people simply will not care. Just look at tennis: dominated by arguably some of the best to have ever graced the game, many are celebrating the arrival of controversial Nick Kyrgios as he at least provides a bit of drama.

Another issue is that people often seem to confuse the ability to bend the rules to your advantage as the sign of a poor player. On the contrary, it is just another weapon in Costa’s arsenal. New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw is known as a master of the ‘dark arts’.

He bends and pushes the limits of legality. Some call it cheating, some say it is a skill, but everyone agrees he is one of the best in the world; if only football could celebrate such ingenuity in the same way.

Costa will not change, he should not have to. Football, and life in general, needs its heroes and its villains, and Costa plays the role with aplomb. Celebrate that we still have such players, before they are all turned into robotic drones too afraid to ruffle any feathers for fear they may lose a few Twitter followers.

Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland.

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