Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
As humans, and as sports fans, we love order. We don’t like it when unexplained mysteries sit for too long in front of us – like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. When something unexpected occurs, we immediately reach for answers. Well, this season most soccer followers are trying to figure out Diego Costa’s meteoric rise. A supporting cast member for Atletico Madrid before this season, the 25-year-old has blossomed into a full-on superstar forward. How did Costa become one of Europe’s top few strikers, coveted by many a big-spending club? I don’t know if I have the answer for you (I never was good at the Rubik’s Cube), but his journey to his current form has been fascinating.
Beginning his senior career for Portuguese club Braga in 2006, Brazilian-born Diego da Silva Costa was actually signed by Atletico just a year later. However, he went on loan to three different clubs and signed with La Liga side Valladolid in 2009 without playing a game for Madrid. Costa started 32 matches (with just 8 goals) for a poor Valldolid team that ended up relegated.
Atletico brought him back the next season to back up starting strikers Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlan. After a good-not-great 2010-11 campaign with 6 goals in 28 appearances (just 13 starts), Costa was injured before the next season. Atletico loaned him out to mediocre La Liga team Rayo Vallecano, where he played quite well, finishing with 10 goals and 4 assists in 16 appearances. He seemed poised for a successful restart at Atletico the next season.
While not having quite the season he was probably hoping for, Diego played a capable Pippen to Radamel Falcao’s Jordan. With 10 goals and 7 assists in a season that saw Atletico capture their first Copa del Rey title since 1996 (he was the top scorer in the tournament), Costa looked like he was settling into a sidekick role. Then Falcao was moved to AS Monaco and, like Pippen in 1993, Costa became The Man.
As it turned out, this is what Costa needed to become a top striker. Thus far, he has poured in 26 goals in 31 La Liga appearances, including 7 in 6 Champions League appearances. That is what taking 3.3 shots per game (as opposed to 1.6 under Falcao’s shadow the previous season) will do for you. Another key improvement is a significant decrease in unnecessarily aggressive play. In an equal number of appearances, he has committed 7 less fouls and 5 less yellow cards. Undoubtedly, Costa’s more level-headed play has contributed to his new found success.
That success hasn’t all been individual, though. Atletico has worked to get themselves in an enviable position for everyone in La Liga. They have a Champions League semi-final date with Chelsea and sit atop the La Liga throne, 3 points clear of Real. The way they’re playing, it’s not unrealistic to see them winning both leagues. And besides defensive midfielder Gabi, Costa has been the most valuable piece to their sudden rise.
Brazil, Scorned – International Career
“He is turning his back on a dream of millions, to represent our national team, the five-time champions in a World Cup in Brazil.” – Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari
In what will surely be a controversial storyline at this summer’s World Cup, Costa decided on October 29th, 2013 that he would play for Spain. It wasn’t overly surprising, considering he has lived his entire adult life in Europe. But for a kid who grew up playing football on the streets of Brazil, it was considered outright disrespect by the Brazilian Football Confederation, who demanded he lose his citizenship.
Costa will likely come into Brazil’s World Cup this summer as Spain’s top striker. This is an unbelievable turnaround for a player that, just 13 months ago, was subbing in for Brazil friendlies. His competition at forward – Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, his Atletico strike partner David Villa – have not had near the kind of season Costa has enjoyed. Unless manager Vicente del Bosque goes with Cesc Fabregas in the “false nine” role, Costa could see significant scoring opportunities. A Spain-Brazil fixture could see some of the highest drama in the entire World Cup – we should start praying it happens.
Style of Play via Cheesy Youtube Tribute
With his sturdy build, Costa is one of the most physical strikers in the world. It has become almost impossible to knock him off the ball. This season, he has developed into a surefire scorer and a guy who has a nose for the ball. You’ll notice not many of his goals are long bombs or frozen-rope strikes. He’s strong as a bull, doesn’t quit, and has morphed into quite the tidy and accurate finisher – his goal vs. Real in the 2013 Copa final is a good example.
Now let’s all watch Costa score goals, set to The Script’s “Breakeven”. Please don’t ask about the relevance of the song choice, because I don’t have an answer.
As a recently signed adidas athlete (he wears their F50 adiZero), Costa’s profile will only continue to rise. For the past year, his name has been linked to several big clubs, Chelsea being the latest. A huge payday could await him elsewhere, but for now, Atletico is a prime place for him. He’s the top forward on an up-and-coming club that has seen increasing success in Europe for the past few seasons, despite losing stars such as Agüero and Falcao. Diego Costa may be that next big name to leave Atletico, and his precipitous charge to the tippy-top of the European striker mountain can be just as difficult to explain as it was fun to watch.