It now seems pretty much certain that Diego Costa will sign for Chelsea. If he hasn’t already done so before you read this. In fact, he may even have put pen to paper before I finish writing this article. The timescale on his transfer seems to change daily – from “before the World Cup” to “later next week” to its current status as “any day now, honest”.
So is he the player we’ve been desperately hoping for since the departure of Didier Drogba? And is Chelsea the club which will make Costa the superstar he clearly itches to be? The answers to both questions are arguably far from clear.
Costa has had a stellar season. Promoted to lead Atletico Madrid’s line after the departure of Falcao, he scored a cracking 36 goals in 52 games to take his team to their first La Liga title in nearly 20 years and to within a few agonising stoppage-time seconds of the European Cup. He’s revelled in the fast-paced counter-attacking formations of Diego Simeone and blossomed into one of Europe’s most sought-after strikers.
But this is really the first season where he has shown a talent for scoring goals. He hit 20 the year before, true, but 8 of those came in the Copa Del Rey and only 10 in La Liga. Apart from two other short burst of form, one on loan and the other in a lower league, he’s never before been particularly prolific.
All of which could mean that Chelsea are netting a player at just the right time, as he begins to fulfil his potential. Or it might mean instead that we are about to be lumbered with a very expensive one-season wonder.
My feeling is that he will succeed in the Premier League. He’s a fighter, tireless and aggressive, and faster than most of the defences he will come up against. He’s tall and strong, can hold the ball or use it to take defenders on. He is unlikely to be bullied out of the penalty area like Torres tends to be, and he has an excellent and accurate shot in him.
He will, however, find it harder against better defences than he’s used to in La Liga – and more particularly, defences that will sit back and defend their area. I doubt he will repeat his 2012/13 feat of 27 league goals next season.
As for whether Chelsea are the right club for him, the jury remains definitely out. It’s a team that needs a leader in attack, which will suit him and ensure that he is a first-team regular (form and injury permitting). But we have a hideous reputation as a graveyard for strikers bought at tremendous expense and with tremendous expectation. I give you – Fernando Torres, Mateja Kezman, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Chris Sutton, Robert Fleck… We can go back to Tony Hateley and Tommy Lawton (and probably even further) if you want.
The important thing is to give Costa time to bloom. Possibly not the three seasons we gave Torres, but at least as much time as we gave Drogba. Who would have thought at the end of Didier’s first season in London that he would be revered as the greatest striker in the club’s history? Patience, in Costa’s case, will probably be needed.