Change­able Costa eyes golden Wem­b­ley sun­set

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LON­DON: Never far from the head­lines, Diego Costa will look to bring a tur­bu­lent sea­son to a dou­bly tri­umphant con­clu­sion when Chelsea tackle Arse­nal in to­day’s FA Cup fi­nal at Wem­b­ley.

The quar­rel­some Spain in­ter­na­tional looked to be on the brink of leav­ing Chelsea for the Chi­nese Su­per League in Jan­uary, but stayed put and con­trib­uted 20 goals to their Pre­mier League ti­tle suc­cess.

To­day’s game is nev­er­the­less widely ex­pected to be his last in Chelsea’s colours and know­ing Costa, he will not go qui­etly.

“Costa is an an­i­mal,” says for­mer Manch­ester United cap­tain Gary Neville.

“When he’s not scor­ing, he’s con­tribut­ing. To play with a sin­gle striker, if he leaves it’s a huge void to fill.

“To re­place that per­son­al­ity, that fight. How many balls has he headed out of his own box this sea­son? How many times has he chased things down?”

Costa, 28, made an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion in English foot­ball af­ter ar­riv­ing from Atletico Madrid in 2014.

The snarling spear­head of Jose Mour­inho’s team, he plun­dered 20 goals in his maiden league cam­paign to fire Chelsea to the ti­tle and scored with a de­flected shot as they sank Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur in the League Cup fi­nal.

But last sea­son, as the wheels came off un­der Mour­inho, so the goals dried up and the prob­lems stacked up for Costa.

He re­ceived two three-game bans — one for as­sault­ing Arse­nal’s Lau­rent Ko­scielny, one for mo­tion­ing as if to bite Ever­ton’s Gareth Barry — and found the net only 12 times in the league as Chelsea trun­dled home in 10th place.

The exit door ap­peared to beckon mid-way through this sea­son when he was dropped for a game at Le­ices­ter City af­ter a blaz­ing row with a fit­ness coach that was re­port­edly linked to a bid from Chi­nese side Tian­jin Quan­jian.

But An­to­nio Conte, Mour­inho’s re­place­ment, suc­cess­fully rein­te­grated Costa into the team and was re­warded with a string of de­ci­sive dis­plays that pro­pelled the west Lon­don club to­wards the cham­pi­onship.

When Chelsea sealed the ti­tle, af­ter a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Al­bion, Costa was at the fore­front of the cel­e­bra­tions.

He crashed Conte’s post-game press con­fer­ence, hav­ing pre­vi­ously doused him with cham­pagne in the chang­ing room, and jok­ingly threat­ened jour­nal­ists with a fire ex­tin­guisher dur­ing a sub­se­quent hud­dle with the Chelsea man­ager.

Conte has been cred­ited with keep­ing Costa on the straight and nar­row, but the Ital­ian, no shrink­ing vi­o­let him­self, has praised the Brazil-born striker for keep­ing his tem­per in check.

“Diego is show­ing in all this sea­son great dis­ci­pline, great com­mit­ment,” Conte said af­ter a 2-1 win at Stoke City in April.

“He showed me (his abil­ity) to think for the team and not for him­self. I want this type of be­hav­iour from my play­ers.”

Hav­ing se­ri­ously con­tem­plated re­turn­ing to Atletico be­fore the start of the sea­son, Costa says learn­ing to stay on­side with Eng­land’s ref­er­ees has en­abled him to avoid trouble.

“At the be­gin­ning of the sea­son I was look­ing for a way back to Madrid at Atletico be­cause I felt like here they didn’t let me play,” he told Sky Sports in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“If you are just hav­ing a fair fight or if as a striker you are fight­ing for the ball and your hand strikes some­one by ac­ci­dent, they ban you for three or four matches.

“So I thought I had to change be­cause oth­er­wise I had to leave.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Chelsea, he again seems de­ter­mined to seek pas­tures new.

Un­for­tu­nately for Arse­nal, he has not gone any­where yet.

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