If you managed to find your way through the tsunami of projectile saliva being both purposefully and un-purposefully directed Gerard Pique’s way over Spain’s most recent international fixtures, you might’ve noticed another on-field problem for La Roja. In fact, if you’d been watching Vicente del Bosque’s side play football at any point over the last 19 months, you would’ve noticed the problem then too.
It’s a significant problem, and one with thick, curly hair, a chip on its shoulder, and a scowl only a Mother could love. It’s a problem named Diego Costa.
Now, this isn’t the same Diego Costa who spends his weekends antagonizing — and thrashing and cursing and elbowing — his way through any Premier League defender who looks his way for Chelsea. That Diego Costa has scored 23 goals in 44 total appearances leading the line for the London club since his arrival on English soil in 2014. That Diego Costa is, if anything, an asset to his team.
Sure, he undergoes the odd suspension for his usual nefarious activity, but he generally aides in his team’s performance in a positive manner (this season’s Chelsea remain quite the aberration in that respect). For Chelsea, the latter compensates for the former, and understandably so. For Spain, however, Costa’s contributions aren’t nearly as discernible.
Since he first debuted with La Roja in March of last year, Costa has scored just once in nine appearances. That slump includes the 2014 World Cup, in which he started in both of Spain’s monumental losses against the Netherlands and Chile. And if we’re being hypercritical, even his one international goal came in a 4-0 World Cup Qualifying mauling of Luxembourg. Simply put, Costa has been a grave disappointment for his adopted national side.
The domineering striker’s woes both on and off the pitch continue into this week’s international break. Due partially to yellow card accumulation and partially to a retroactive punishment, Costa has been dropped from Spain’s squad for this week’s Euro Qualifiers by manager Vicente del Bosque. This means Costa will miss Friday’s qualifier against Luxembourg — a match in which Spain can punch their ticket for next summer’s tournament finals with a victory — as well as their final group game against Ukraine.
With Costa absent, yet another chance to upstage the Brazilian falls into the lap of Spain’s other forwards, most notably Alvaro Morata. Although Morata, too, has only managed one goal for Spain, it only took him just five appearances to Costa’s nine, with most of them being as a substitute.
It’s quite clear when watching La Roja that Morata is much more of a stylistic fit than Costa is and will probably ever be. Morata’s general versatility, mixed with expert poaching skills, is vaguely reminiscent of Spain’s all-time leading scorer, David Villa, while Costa’s lumbering hold-up play has always existed as a square-peg in Spain’s round hole of tiki-taka floor-ball. Many criticized Costa’s initial declaration to represent Spain over his native Brazil as a peculiar move that might not be in either his nor La Roja’s best interests. Over the last two years, we’ve seen that fear actualize itself time and time again.
And as if Costa needed any more reason to feel detached from the current La Roja set-up, the disconnect has been further intensified by del Bosque’s recent denouncement of the role Costa played in September’s disgraceful incident in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, in which Costa slapped Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny before proceeding to provoke centre-half Gabriel into an eventual red-card. Although he evaded any sort of caution during the match, Costa was later found guilty of violent conduct and is now serving a three-match suspension.
In a recent media interview, del Bosque labeled the forward’s behavior “unedifying,” maintaining that he “didn’t like what he did.”
Though he took issue with the striker’s actions, the Spanish boss assured that Costa’s dropping had nothing to do with the Arsenal incident: “He can’t play the first game through suspension and we’ve decided not to bring him.”
“He hasn’t played badly, and it’s not on merit.”
In reality, Costa has done himself no favors on the pitch and continues to make it harder on himself through his unique brand of antics that range from funny, to aggravating, to effective, to, ultimately maybe for him, fatal. With Morata on his heels, del Bosque on his back, and his own pride in his way, Diego Costa might want to get used to the view from the outside when it comes to La Roja.