Chelsea should consider Costa sale
Most clubs might resent stories of interest in their star striker, but you wonder if that's the feeling at Chelsea this summer amid renewed reports that Atletico Madrid are on the hunt for Diego Costa. The Brazilian-born striker was one of the main reasons why Chelsea won the title in 2015, but you couldn't blame the club if they felt it might now be time to cash in on the 27-year-old.
It's no secret that manager Antonio Conte would relish the chance to work with Alvaro Morata once again, but the Spanish striker isn't going to come cheap. Real Madrid brought him back from Juventus to sell him at a profit and they'll expect to be handsomely rewarded. And without the financial boost that comes from Champions League football, Chelsea can't spend as freely as they once did. They've already spent £60 million on N'Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi. They'll surely have to sell to afford Morata as well. And why wouldn't they sell Costa?
Costa's aggression and focus was exactly what Jose Mourinho required in his second season back at Stamford Bridge. His highest-scoring striker in the league in his first campaign back in West London was an ageing Samuel Eto'o with nine, followed by the substandard Demba Ba with five and another five from Fernando Torres, who generally played with the intensity of someone who watched "Marley & Me" right before kickoff and is really feeling some stuff right now.
Costa was a blast of hot, sepulchral air -- exactly what the club required. He scored at a terrifying rate: seven in his first four league games. Double figures by November. Six more in that draining period between mid-December and mid-January.
But in keeping with most of his teammates, that intensity gradually faded as they won the title, then dramatically as they "defended" it. By Christmas 2015, the scourge of the Premier League had just three goals to his name. He had clashed publicly with Mourinho, petulantly tossing his training bib at his manager at White Hart Lane, so nearly landing it on his head for extra comedy points. Costa would later describe his relationship with Mourinho as "amazing," but there was little time to prove the depth of their friendship because Mourinho was fired just days later.
Chelsea's supporters were furious at the players for the dismal performances, many in agreement with Mourinho that he had been "betrayed." They took their frustrations out on Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Costa, with one fan holding a banner at the next game that labelled the three of them as "rats."
Costa's form did, mysteriously enough, suddenly improve after the dismissal of Mourinho. He scored six goals in six games in all competitions after Christmas, with another five through February and the first week of March. But had the damage been done behind the scenes? Football is a pragmatic business, and the hierarchy would rarely hold on as a matter of principle to the detriment of their club. But at Chelsea, they have long memories. The unsentimental treatment of John Terry last season was thought to have been partly linked to Terry's refusal to pledge his future to the club when Manchester City came calling in 2009.
And would selling Costa actually be that detrimental to Chelsea? It certainly would have been in 2015, but perhaps not so much in 2016. Costa struggles with niggling injuries and cannot be used with great frequency. In his two seasons with the club, he has made 26 and 28 league appearances, respectively. That's not too bad, but it's hardly ideal. And Costa brings other problems: He can be easily distracted by conflict.
When Costa is raging, the fury can fester and grow. Everyone in the Premier League knows that they can get him in trouble if they keep nagging him. Costa was booked eight times in the league last season, a total that put him joint 10th in the league, but he was the only striker to make it so far up the table. He's a very easy target for any Premier League manager willing to invoke the dark arts. And that, of course, is every Premier League manager. And if it's easy enough for normal managers to push Costa to the brink of eruption, just imagine what Mourinho will have in store for his former player when his Manchester United come to visit.
Atletico Madrid's interest is not driven purely by football reasons. The recapture of Costa would, like the recapture of Torres in 2015, signal their changed circumstances. In Torres' first spell, they were tumbling out of relevance. In Costa's first spell, they were seen as a selling club, albeit a reasonably successful one. Not anymore. Now they are a genuine force in world football and have been unfortunate on two occasions not to lift the Champions League trophy. A move like this would be a significant message. Chelsea could make a lot of money by waiting for Atletico's pride to overrule their objectivity.
And so Chelsea have a team interested in a less-than-fit striker with a sporadically bad attitude, a history of insubordination and a poor disciplinary record who scored just 12 Premier League goals last season. Frankly, you'd worry about their judgement if they weren't, at the very least, considering Atletico Madrid's terms