Sometimes headlines write themselves. With most of Brazil muttering something similar into the bandannas they’ve tied around their face as they riot against FIFA, I’d say this is such a time.
Diego Costa. He’s been a divisive figure in world football in the last few years, mostly for his dirty play on the pitch. But in the last 18 months or so, he’s put that dirty play in the passenger seat, letting his football do the driving.
Or something. Basically he’s still a dirty, physical cat but he scores now too.
So he got his first call up to Brazil (at the tender age of 24) last spring, making a pair of substitute appearances. Then he was dropped for the Confederation’s Cup, despite Damiao withdrawing through injury.
Now he’s scoring like a fiend, 16 in 16 so far this season for Atletico Madrid. He’s atop the La Liga scoring charts, powering Atleti to the coattails of Barcelona and the top of a Champions League group. Not bad for someone deemed excess to requirements by Brazil for most of his career.
He’s a hot commodity now, world powers queuing up and jockeying for position like nerds watching a Dance Dance Revolution tournament (that’s a thing, right?)
So now the question arises: can he play for Spain?
That opens a number of other doors: Should he? Does he owe something to Brazil? Can he, legally? Should it be legal? Will this list ever end?
Should he? What does he owe to Brazil?
Frankly, nothing. He’s played no professional football there (he attributed his football schooling to “the street”), left when he was 17 and never represented them at youth levels. As his star slowly started to rise, they gave him a call only to slap him away again when the Confed Cup came around.
He owes Brazil the culture more than he owes Brazil the nation, if his “the streets were my school” comment is accurate.
And he isn’t really a Brazilian striker. He’s powerful, a bull that runs directly at a defense with the intention of going through them rather than around. Not one for buildup, he likes to hit opponents quickly (both in terms of his play and physically…probably with a fist). He’s sharpened his finishing in recent years as well.
All of which makes him a solid fit for Spain. He won’t be a typical Spanish player, which may frustrate some Spaniards but will ultimately prove important. Sometimes you need a Plan B. If delicately picking the defense apart doesn’t open the door, then maybe smashing it with a dump truck will.
The majority of his development has come in Iberia anyway. Portugal to Spain. Del Bosque wants him, with an eye towards the World Cup. Big Phil Scolari opted to play Jo over Costa in the Confed Cup, so that should tell you something.
The striker position in the Spanish side is as open as it’s ever been. Torres is inching back to respectable, Soldado and Negredo have been lukewarm in England and a few youngsters are coming up. Costa could probably stroll into the starting role right now, although the World Cup is a while away yet.
Why wouldn’t he go to Spain? He’s been officially called up. Expect him to play in the coming friendlies.
Can he, legally? Should it be legal?
Yes he can and yes it should be. Some people will point to Alfredo Di Stefano’s move from Argentina to Spain, or similar movements by Puskas and others as reasons to crack down on such Benedictian changes. But those players moved with little resistance, and their cases were much different from Costa’s. Diego has lived and developed in Spain and Portugal since he was 17. Brazil didn’t pay him or his antics any attention until last spring. Why shouldn’t he be able to play for Spain?
For perspective, Messi was born to Italian-Argentinian parents, in Argentina, and has played in Spain since he was 12. Thiago was born to a Brazilian legend and played for Spain at all levels, while his brother has committed to Brazil. Guiseppi Rossi was born in New Jersey and has played for Italy at all levels. Subotic was born in Serbia, raised in Germany, moved to the US and played for the Yanks’ youth teams. He’s now a fully-fledged Serbian international.
The list goes on and on. The reason this case gets so much heat is because Costa is a major figure in world football right now, spurning one major power for another during the prime of his career. But he’s made 2 apps for Brazil. TWO.
Why shouldn’t it be legal? Costa can’t let his career wilt as he waits by the phone. Spain showed interest while his home country continued to ignore him like they had since he was a kid. He has the chance (Del Bosque has emphasized that it’s only a chance) to play in the World Cup with the best national team in history.
The one drawback? It’s in Brazil. He’s going to get booed, hissed at, spat on and hated. His jerseys will be burned (not that he has any Brazil jerseys) and pictures trampled.
But he can rest easy. Brazil turned its back on him long before he answered Del Bosque’s call.