You’re Diego Costa, and things are going pretty well. Your club, Atletico Madrid, have shocked everyone by reaching the Champions League, while also finding themselves atop La Liga with two games remaining. This is largely your doing; you’re having the best season of your career, with 36 goals in 49 games. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have more goals in La Liga this season. Things are going pretty well, indeed. But when you go home to Brazil this summer, they will hate you.
This story begins last summer. The Spanish media, when not covering Gareth Bale’s move to Madrid, reported that Costa was the subject of transfer attention from Liverpool. Supposedly, with Luis Suarez’s Liverpool future in jeopardy, the Reds were prepared to triple the Costa’s wages if he left Madrid for Merseyside. And Costa said no. That decision has shaped this European campaign.
Atletico aren’t supposed to happen. European soccer exists largely in the shadow of its monied giants; smaller clubs are orphans left to silently hope that some wealthy man will adopt them. Real Madrid and Barcelona are the biggest of these giants.But los Rojiblancos don’t care. Radamel Falcao, who led Atletico in goals last season, left before the current campaign for Monaco in Ligue 1. Atletico’s only major signing was David Villa, who has been overshadowed by Costa. No matter: the club have already scored more goals in La Liga than last season. And while Liverpool have returned to the top of the English table in the absence of European play, Atletico have gone farther into the Champions League than in Europa last season. You’re supposed to need a massive squad like Chelsea or Manchester City to balance European and domestic responsibilities, but Atletico have used just 22 players this season. Costa’s great season can be credited with some of their success, but not all of it. They don’t make sense, and maybe that’s okay.
Atletico Madrid’s season exists as a rebellion against the supposed rigidity of top-flight soccer. They are flying too close to the sun, and the wax is not melting. Regardless of how their season ends, they have taught those of us who think we know things a lesson.
All good things must come to an end, however. Chelsea, the club Atletico beat in the Champions League semi-finals, are looming over Diego Costa’s shoulder. He rebuffed Liverpool last summer, but he has significantly increased his value in the past year; can he say no to Roman Abramovich’s millions?
I don’t begrudge players leaving clubs for more money. Athletes’ careers are limited, and they have a right to make as much as they can, while they can. But I am rooting against this move. Obviously, as a Tottenham supporter, anything that helps Chelsea makes me sad. But Costa has also shown himself, like his current club, to be something of a different character. He is a rebel, too.
The inevitable transfer drama won’t be the most interesting story surrounding Costa this summer. Costa was born in Brazil, he grew up there, and he will be returning for the World Cup this summer. But he will be playing for Spain. After appearing in two friendlies last March for the Brazilian side, Costa was granted Spanish nationality in the summer and has decided to play for la Roja. He is persona non grata in his home country, and officials have requested that he lose his Brazilian citizenship. Brazil could use a striker in Costa’s form. And depending on how the group stage plays out, they could meet him as early as the second round. Just in case you needed more reason to watch the World Cup.