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Diego Costa’s ugly transfer saga has embarrassed everyone involved

Costa’s messy departure from Chelsea has dominated headlines since June, but at this point, whether he returns to Atlético is secondary.

West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

"The transfer will be sealed this week!"

Fast forward to the next day.

"Atlético Madrid are in no rush to seal the transfer."

This has been my summer.

The Diego Costa imbroglio has rumbled into its third month with little substantive sign of abating. Sure, there have been scattered reports that the deal will be done before Atlético and Chelsea play each other in the Champions League on Sept. 27. But in case you haven’t noticed or have fallen asleep waiting for concrete developments, we’ve been hearing that for a while now. Forgive my skepticism.

I'm tired of checking my phone every morning to see whether or not Costa has boarded a flight out of his family’s fortress in Brazil. I'm tired of reading the same recycled stories from Spain and England about Atlético and Chelsea, Chelsea and Atlético, the two sides "locked in talks" while somehow "not negotiating" at the same time.

(What can there still be to talk about?????)

I've had it. It no longer matters if Costa returns this season. It no longer matters if Atlético and Chelsea decide to stop staring blankly across the table and drop their impossible demands of one another. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The saga has become too embarrassing to club and player to continue justifying its existence.

I love Diego Costa. Always have. He is an Atlético hero. He is one of my favorite strikers on the planet, a world-class finisher and a world-class s***-starter. But no player is worth the headaches his stubbornness is causing — and he’s not even in the team!

I’ll just get right to it: I'd rather sit and write my way through a transitional season — which this always was likely to be anyway, as Real Madrid look set to continue a Golden State Warriors-like run of dominance and Lionel Messi still plays for Barcelona. The hard truth is that Atleti don’t have the money needed to complete a transfer like this, especially after the Vitolo deal earlier this summer and the revelation earlier this week that the club had to pay €170m to get Estadio Wanda Metropolitano up and running.

One could even argue this shouldn’t be done despite the need for a killer #9. As we speak, Costa is rotting away in Brazil, shirking the responsibilities of his Chelsea contract and seeing his World Cup chances dip every single day. Some of that is his own fault. But the club that wants him hasn’t exerted much effort in trying to get him; there are conflicting reports on whether Atlético have actually started negotiating, as “we can’t sign until January” — another Enrique Cerezo gem. Regardless of whether or not the club has the requisite funds, a top club doesn’t act like this.

Some have viewed Costa's seemingly nonchalant attitude toward bombing his own career as refreshingly bold, a decision that speaks to his love of Diego Simeone and Atlético, and that’s fine. It can also be viewed as categorically insane. If Costa is willing to sabotage his career to get a storybook move that has always been far from guaranteed, and if he is willing to dedicate himself more to ignoring Chelsea than getting fit to play for Spain or Atlético, the question could be asked as to whether the 28-year-old is still the personality we remember him being at 25.

UEFA Champions League Final - Previews MD-1 Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Of course, he could still come, and it would be exciting if he did. Theoretically, he remains the perfect striker for Simeone’s system. He could hit the ground running in January, score the goals Atlético have been missing for two years and perhaps fire the team to heights not reached since he left. Atleti seem to feel this way. They seem to think there will be no problem returning Costa to match fitness, and it will be no problem for Costa to force his way back in Julen Lopetegui’s Spain plans.

But that's an awfully overconfident, if not idyllic, vision. Just as easily, he could fail to find chemistry with Antoine Griezmann. His troublesome hamstrings could flare up again, as he hasn’t played professional football since May. FiveThirtyEight’s number-crunchers say Atlético have an 18 percent chance of making it to a Champions League semifinal and just a three percent chance to win the competition. The odds in LaLiga are similarly long. And Álvaro Morata is on course to have a monster season, which might spell doom for Costa’s World Cup chances no matter how good he plays from January on.

Time's arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It marches ever onward — for Chelsea, for Atlético, for Diego Costa. One way or another, this has to end; it’s absurd that it’s gone on this long. Atlético need to move past this humiliation with or without Costa in tow. As Simeone put it in preseason, let’s enjoy the players actually wearing red and white, not those who might don those colors.