This summer at Liverpool has been largely overshadowed by the transfer saga involving Luis Suarez, the striker who seems intent on leaving Anfield despite the club’s resilient desire to keep him.
In a parallel plot-line to the war of attrition with Suarez however, is the work done by Brendan Rodgers in quietly assembling a promising squad capable of challenging for a return to the Champions League. Simon Mignolet, Belgium’s talented young goalkeeper, replaces Pepe Reina whilst Kolo Toure offers experienced cover in defence. Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas arrive from Spain with bright reputations to add firepower to the attack, building on the clever deals done in January for Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho.
It seems like Rodgers is not willing to allow Liverpool’s spending to stop there after he launched a £21 million bid for Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa, a move likely to have been made with an eye on Suarez’s possible departure. With Suarez having a history of controversy and currently serving a suspension for biting an opponent, Costa will bring his own brand of abrasive and galling behaviour having served previous suspensions for head-butting during his time in Spain. Despite only being 24, Costa has amassed a total of 59 bookings and seven red cards during his relatively short time in La Liga.
It was during a ban for hitting an opponent and threatening a referee whilst playing as a teenager for Barcelona Esportivo Capel in Brazil when he was scouted by an agent and handed a contract at Sporting Braga. Costa moved to Europe on his own at the age of 18.
It was this ambition and fighting drive that has underlined Costa’s rise. Growing up in the poverty of Lagarto, the lack of grass pitches or facilities failed to prevent Costa from playing, “the street was my school”, he has said. His story is one of true rags to riches, not afforded the standard of coaching other youngsters were receiving, Costa was left to educate himself: “Boys who grew up playing in academies are taught to respect others, but no-one told me otherwise. I didn’t have a school to teach me this, I was used to seeing players elbow each other in the face and thought it was the norm”.
It is this background and rough, spiky personality that has compromised Costa’s ability in that, regardless of how well he is playing, he can let himself down with a display of lunacy or disappointing petulance. His role in a Madrid derby fracas a season ago is testament to that, as is his dismissal for a Europa League head-butt on David Limbersky of Viktoria Plzen in the same week. He also played a significant role in getting Gary Medel and Geoffrey Kondgobia sent off in a heated clash with Sevilla last season, Costa’s charge-sheet can almost rival that of Suarez, minus the biting.
But, most tellingly to Rodgers, his quality can also replicate Suarez and it is what has sparked Liverpool into meeting his sizeable release clause. It was his powerful, explosive style of play in withdrawn striking positions that saw him emerge into a regular in Diego Simeone’s successful Atletico, becoming the first choice option in support of the free-scoring Radamel Falcao.
The constant bullying and harassing of defenders is suited perfectly to Simeone’s fiery philosophy of high-pressing and energetic running in the final third. Costa, able to play on the flanks or in behind the main-striker, is equally adept at running off the ball to make space for others and charging directly at defenders with it, it is the former quality that contributed so much to the almost telepathic understanding he shared with Falcao. He can also deliver in front of goal as shown by his haul of 20 last season to go with his 7 assists as he played an influential role in Atletico’s Copa Del Rey success and return to the Champions League.
Whether he is around to assist Liverpool’s bid to once again grace Europe’s premier competition remains to be seen, but there is clearly method behind the madness in Rodgers’s potential pairing of the troublesome Costa and Suarez in attack. The Brazilian may even see Liverpool and the Premier League as a platform to stake a claim to build on his two caps earned in March as the Selecao head into a World Cup year.
Though Costa is no ordinary Brazilian player, choosing to rely on raw speed and sheer physical brawn to go past defenders rather than the twinkle-toed technique of past stars. Then again, Costa is no ordinary player altogether, “half Messi, half monster”, as he was once referred to and Liverpool seem prepared to take a gamble on him.
If Costa can keep his temper in check, Rodgers would have pulled off another shrewd buy.