Diego Costa gave an interview to The Sun recently, in which he discussed his reputation in England. The Spanish international insisted that, although known for his antagonistic personality, he is really the victim of provocation from opponents.
The reaction to that will be…mirth, I suspect. Rival fans will sneer away at his plea of innocence and continue to assume that Costa is just the twenty-four carat bastard that he’s generally assumed to be. But, while it’s fanciful to suggest that he is merely misunderstood - Costa is no saint - it’s worth bearing his comments in mind next time you see him play.
He has a volatile personality and he came to his country having shown that, if smart, defenders are able to get under his skin. English-based managers and players are clearly aware of this and, while they may not make it to the Match of the Day highlights, intentional provocation has clearly become part of the strategy to contain him. Chelsea are a fabulously gifted team and most sides in England are unable to match them in a pure eleven-versus-eleven contest, so - quite understandably - dark arts are often employed in response.
Re-watch the full 90 minutes of the recent with Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge. Without meaning to make an outright accusation, there was more than a hint that the visiting side were trying to draw a referee-attracting retaliation from Costa at various points and that’s something which has happened on more than one occasion this season.
Individually, these moments are of little significance - they are a prod here, an innocent-looking action there - but they are happening and they are re being largely ignored.
That is not to say that Diego Costa is right and that he is being unfairly characterised, but just that if he is to be portrayed as a foreign bogeyman who breaks rules and cheats to win, the other side of the coin should really be acknowledged. He is fighting two-way battles and while he has frequently crossed the line and has been rightly punished for doing so, any notion that he is terrorising lily white defenders who play the game honourably at all times is hopelessly naive.
He is a villain, but he’s one of many.