Cooney and Black

No sign of the wuss gene in Diego Costa. He appeared singularly unimpressed by a 6ft 3in bearded behemoth infiltrating his nostrils. Not a muscle did he move.

Diego Costa art


WHENEVER I see Diego Costa, there’s an immediate imperative in me to whistle the theme tune from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

This Chelsea striker could easily be taken for a cast member of that iconic Sixties’ spaghetti western. Yes, siree, he appears more than capable of exchanging Winchester gunfire with Clint Eastwood and Lee van Cleef.

That intimidating face, supplementing a heavily-muscled torso, will discourage a few of the faint hearts in the England Premier Division, and I suspect we shall discover plenty of those this season.

Such an impressive array of machismo, however, didn’t prevent Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard from attempting to chastise Costa for “unsporting behaviour” against his team mate Seamus Coleman on Saturday (when the latter scored an own goal, Costa spurned diplomacy and reminded him of his error).

But even Howard must have experienced a sliver of apprehension after speedily deserting his goal-line for the confrontation. Costa appeared singularly unimpressed by a 6ft 3in, bearded behemoth infiltrating his nostrils. Significantly, not a muscle did he move.

The former Atletico Madrid player, then, appears to be gloriously deficient when it comes to a potential wuss gene: if he resembles a tough guy, it’s because he’s an authentically tough guy..

But toughness also can be defined away from the battlefield. Last Wednesday, he apparently tweaked a hamstring. This has almost become a designer injury for modern-day footballers – one slight strain on this tendon has them hallooing the nearest, most obliging, sports scientist. There follows interminable days of rest: an almost statutory four-to-six-week spell on the sidelines.

Costa evidently confounded all the physiological odds on this occasion; he banished the concept of pain to the far corners of his mind, absented himself from work for merely two days, and then subjected himself to a late fitness test – which he passed.

A short time later, despite the missed training sessions, he was scoring two goals – that’s four in three games for the Londoners – receiving the unsolicited approval of one Didier Drogba, and underlining the growing belief in some quarters that, at £32 million, he may be the Premier Division’s star acquisition.

Some hours before Costa underpinned his credentials, a somewhat more expensive import was making his debut for Manchester United. The £59.7 million Angel di Maria, too, looks to be a bit of player, although substantially different in style and build to Costa.

His game-time against Burnley was necessarily curtailed by a second-half calf injury, but even before this I had difficulty concentrating fully on his performance.

I was recalling what was to be his final flourish at Real Madrid. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the manner of di Maria’s departure from the Spanish capital redefined the phrase “kicking and screaming”.

It was framed in a letter to his beloved Bernabeu fans: aka the Madridismo. That letter told you so much about one of our modern-day, highly remunerated footballers. He appears to be insensitive beyond any normal man’s belief.

It’s worth recalling some of di Maria’s outpourings. “My cycle at Real Madrid has come to an end,” he began. “Is impossible to capture all I have lived through in a few lines, but I want this letter to communicate what I feel at the moment of parting.

“In these four years I had the honour to wear this shirt. I feel nothing but pride for what I went through and achieved along with my team mates. Unfortunately, today, I have to go, but I want to make clear that this was never my desire.”

He finished with: “Hala Madrid! Until forever!”

Now, this is all very well for those fans who hail from the Spanish capital. No doubt many of them will rejoice in his devotion and loyalty. Others still may fully regret the parting.

But what kind of message does it send to those who support Manchester United? Does it convince them that they have a player committed to donating heart and lungs for his new team?

And what effect does it have on the temporarily beleaguered Louis van Gaal? What he needs now more than anything is loyalty, especially from a player who cost the club a British record transfer fee.

Moreover, can van Gaal convince himself that di Maria’s love affair with Madrid can be consigned to history – that there will be no hankerings to return to Spain? Time will tell.

We keep being told that timing is everything, of course. If di Maria had initially sworn his loyalty to United and cemented his career there with some outstanding displays, then that would have been the moment to pen a letter of regret to his erstwhile supporters. But he chose to do it at an unfortunate and most unpropitious time.

Costa, it is alleged, was not always so committed to Chelsea. It’s said his admiration for La Liga champion Atletico was as sincere as that which di Maria displayed towards Real.

It’s claimed that at one point he even considered pulling out of the arrangement, but was stymied because of an agreement signed by his agent. This meant that if the transfer didn’t go through, Costa would have had to pay Chelsea several million euros out of his own pocket.

Whether that story is apocryphal or not, the fact is Costa arrived at Chelsea and committed himself wholeheartedly to the cause. There is no evidence of a sulk factor. And, as far as I know, no damning love letters were despatched to Atletico fans.

Which man – di Maria or Costa – represents the better bet? Diego’s my choice. Hey, I’ve started whistling that bloody tune already.




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