Costa’s tricks won’t cease until Arsenal stop falling for them

By on September 19, 2015

Diego Costa winds up opposition defenders in every match he plays, but rarely with such aplomb that it could warrant a man of the match award.  It was Costa’s provocation of Gabriel into a sending off that proved the turning point in Chelsea’s Premier League encounter with Arsenal today. “He always gets away with it. He will do the same again next week, and the week after, and he always gets away with it,” Arsene Wenger complained, per The Guardian. Between the spats, the shoves, the words exchanged, the off-the-ball bumps, the flicks and the kicks, Costa won’t give the opposition center-backs a minute’s rest, the on-the-feel equivalent of Mourinho’s off-the-field antics with long-time managerial rivals.

For Costa, it’s maddening to watch because the player has fully mastered the art of skullduggery and gets away with it all; though vile, it works. Against Arsenal, he was not deigned to have committed one single foul. As has been said many times before, he’s terrible to play against but a great teammate to have.

Yet there was a time in his career, not so long ago, when this wasn’t the case and Costa was very much on the other side of the coin. In a loan move to Spanish side Albacete in 2008, in which Costa first established himself as a started in the professional game, it took him just ten games to be sent off for lashing out at an opponent against Alicante. In that same season, he saw red for a wild challenge in a meeting with Tenerife.

Back then he was the young, frizzy-haired, hot-headed forward, no better at controlling his aggression than Gabriel today. In March 2010, Costa was sent off for stamping on an opponent whilst on loan at Valladolid and in November of that year, an elbow got himself sent off in reaction to a shove from an opponent on Las Palmas.

Yet that changed under Diego Someone, who would know a thing or two about winding players up from his playing career, which was highlighted by an infamous altercation with David Beckham in the 1998 World Cup. Since establishing himself as a starter for Atletico in 2012 and moving to Chelsea, Costa has only seen red once, for an aggressive chest-bump in Atletico’s Europa League meeting with Viktoria Plzen in late 2012; and in that case, the validity of the red card was put into question given Lukas Hejda made the most of the contact, which wasn’t much more severe than Costa’s chest-bump with Koscielny today.

Furthermore, Costa appeared genuinely apologetic, only questioning the verdict in a polite sort of way, saying per Fran Guile’s book, Diego Costa: The Art of War: “It was my fault and I’m sorry. But I do think a red card was a bit much. I didn’t headset him. He bumped into me when he was getting up. I do accept my share of the blame though and I’m sorry.”

It was simply a dropped line in the show that Costa was learning, meant to channel his aggression into a dirty tactic. The carefully calculated swipes meant to look accidental but very much on purpose; the sly comments and maybe a small stamp here and there. Gabriel was only the latest in a long list of plays to take the bait.

Their fight had it all. The squabble began as Costa swiped across the face of Laurent Koscielny, who, to his credit, didn’t fall into the trap. As Koscielny won the physical battle and Costa fell to the ground, the Spaniard reacted with a chest-bump of the magnitude to push Koscielny to the ground. That’s when Gabriel entered the battle, originally as the peacemaker. Quickly, Costa roped the twenty-four-year old into the argument.

For whatever Costa’s part in the fight, it was daft of Gabriel to fall into the trap when he was undoubtedly aware of Costa’s tactic – even Wenger admitted that his player was “guilty for getting involved and should not have responded at all.” There’s no doubt that Gabriel deserved his sending off. The first quarrel, complete with shoves and heated words, resulted in the paid getting yellows and boiled over as they walked together back to the center circle, when Gabriel flicked Costa with his heel. It was more meant to annoy Costa than actually hurt him, but the resulting red card instead inflicted sizable damage on Arsenal’s game-plan.

There will always be purists who lash out at Costa’s dirty tricks. Then there are people like Jose Mourinho, who embrace Costa’s antics as a tool. For Mourinho, Costa was indeed “man of the match” today. Mourinho already defies those bent upon possession-based football, and upon being questioned on Costa’s antics, The Guardian claim that he told a reporter: “I can guess when you were a kid you were playing badminton.”

Just as Mourinho often feeds the press half-truths, Costa relies on almost-fouls, rarely dangerous infringements, to wind up his opponent. It’s not kosher but brings home the bacon nevertheless. Arsene Wenger may hate Costa’s tricks, but still falls for them every time.

Homepage photo credit: By Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK, via Wikimedia Commons

About Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, founder of Football Every Day, lives and breaths football from the West Coast of the United States in California. Aside from founding Football Every Day in January of 2013, Alex has also launched his own journalism career and hopes to help others do the same with FBED. He covers the San Jose Earthquakes as a beat reporter for and his work has also been featured in the BBC's Match of the Day Magazine.