Diego Costa’s return to Atlético Madrid in Sept. 2018 was met with both palpable excitement and a little trepidation. At the same time, he was relatively equal parts “prodigal son returning home” and “bully who wormed his way out Chelsea,” but few Atlético supporters concerned themselves with the latter. Nah, many — including me, of course — eagerly anticipated Costa’s €66 million return and hailed his arrival as the missing piece of Diego Simeone’s striker corps, the piece that would bring Atleti another step closer to domestic and European glory.
Well. About that.
Costa’s 2018/19 season officially ended on Thursday, as he was handed an eight-match suspension following his actions during Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Barcelona. In said match (if you’ve somehow missed it), Costa was unhappy that a foul on Arthur went unacknowledged and allegedly insulted referee Gil Manzano by...erm...threatening to defecate on his mother.
(Though figurative, it’s one of the most offensive statements you can make to a Spaniard.)
Anyway, Costa didn’t stop there. He grabbed Gil Manzano’s arm twice per the referee’s report and was shown a straight red card — which put Atlético down a man for the next 62 minutes. His teammates held out bravely for 57 of those 62 minutes before Luis Suárez curled in a ridiculous goal to hand Barça another league title.
The suspension is a fitting end both to Costa’s nightmare season and what has become a failed second stint in Madrid. His final stats this season make for ugly reading — two goals and two assists over 1,117 minutes (16 games). He averaged only 1.3 shots per 90 minutes and was hampered by a variety of injuries. Like, I can’t even type them all out:
Other than his heroic performance in August’s Super Cup win over Real Madrid, Costa has been an unmitigated and expensive disaster in his first full season back. Not even a partnership with the man who replaced him in London could get him going — though he did manage this beauty against Alavés, which showed he does have something left in his locker in spite of the bad foot, the bad hamstrings and so on.
The decision by RFEF’s Competition Committee marks Costa’s third suspension in just 15 months — and that’s just in the league. If you’ll recall, he went and got himself suspended for the second leg of los rojiblancos’ Champions League tie against Juventus when he screwed around in the wall preparing for a free kick. I don’t need to tell you what happened without him in the second leg.
Even as a player who has always shamelessly lived on the edge, that’s just too irresponsible — combined with the injuries and lack of discernible chemistry with Antoine Griezmann, you have a guy who has become a near-total liability.
But Simeone retains faith in the man who, at a much younger age, helped bring a league crown to the Vicente Calderón.
“I trust Diego Costa until death and I hope he stays next year,” Simeone said prior to last week’s 2-0 win over Girona. “I have complete confidence in him, he is a hugely important player for us and it is no coincidence that we have started winning trophies again since his return.”
Ah, see, that’s where we disagree, Cholo. The club will take a financial hit, but it must move on from Costa this summer and sell him to the highest (Chinese) bidder. Atlético can expect an uphill battle trying to sell Costa on the European continent — and while no firm interest has emerged in reports, China’s Super League seems likely to be his next destination. A club there can pay his wages — the league’s new salary cap applies to domestic players only. The much-ballyhooed 100 percent tax on foreign transfers may go to the Chinese government, but los colchoneros could still come close to pocketing the fee Chelsea received in 2017 if a team wants him badly enough.
TL;DR — at 30 years old and with a pocketed salary of €8.5 million per year, Atleti can find both a cheaper and younger replacement for the ex-Spain international. Maxi Gómez from a relegated Celta Vigo, anyone?
What’s happened over the past calendar year — bar the aforementioned Super Cup and his World Cup adventures — has been sad, tragic even. You have to feel for the big man, whose reputation among Atléticos has remained mostly intact despite his disastrous second spell. All signs point to him simply being...well, washed, and his profligacy has further hampered an Atleti attack that has trouble scoring goals anyway.
Costa’s return by and large has been a nightmare and his form was never a sure thing in the first place. The time has come for him to go again — at this point, the possibility that he can resurrect his Atlético career is rather remote.
Sometimes, dead really is better.