Cleats of rage

4 Jan

Do you know what happens when a great white shark is taken into captivity? I’ll tell you exactly what happens. It dies.

It refuses to countenance life as a prisoner and voluntarily cashes in its chips, electing starvation as the honourable option. Oliver Twist might have begged for more, but you won’t catch a great white sacrificing himself on the altar of dignity. You can shove your gruel up your arse, mate. “I might leave in a body bag, but never in cuffs” was a line written by the rapper Eminem, but it could as easily have been penned by Jaws, or Bruce from Finding Nemo.

It’s a mindset. And a good one, at that. These toothy killers of the deep need to be on the edge. They need the bother; the hustle bustle. And if that means orphaning a few baby seals along the way, so be it. Life is a struggle, sure, but without the struggle, life is nothing at all.

——–

If you chucked Diego Costa some dead antelope meat, he wouldn’t touch the stuff. He’d rather go hungry. Costa is another who knows that dinner needs to be blissfully roaming around the plains until shortly before the bell rings and the table laid. It’s just not satisfying otherwise. Costa eats what he kills. No more, no less.

——–

This perpetual state of heightened aggression is not exactly buried deep within Costa’s layers. A glance at the tall Sergipano gives you a pretty good impression. The face that looks like sad marzipan. The stare that suggests he’s buried a thousand men and will bury a thousand more. Diego knows there’s only one person you can trust in life. And he knows you’ll get further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.

In order to survive in the footballing jungle, Costa needs to turn everything into a dust-up. Whether it’s two minutes in, five minutes in, or a mere 24 seconds, as was the case in November’s game against Dynamo Kiev. Aggro is his tin of spinach. A heated nose-to-nose exchange his form of battle readyment.

——–

Football has asked the question before whether this level of aggression helps or hinders. Much was made of Wayne Rooney’s anger in his earlier years. But the distinction between Rooney and Costa is crisp. Rooney’s anger was always borne out of frustration, and usually with himself at that. Costa’s vexations are targeted and purposeful. The crafty beggar knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s as leading as an invitation up for coffee.

Alan Shearer likes to tell us that Costa should just concentrate on scoring goals, but it isn’t as simple as that. He’ll only score them if he can get the synapses firing optimally. Costa is a good player, but on natural talent alone, not a great player. He has no one great virtue other than a hyper-evolved ability to get on a centre-back’s wick. Recognising this unique talent, Costa was left with a Faustian choice: play like an angel in Division 2, or play like the devil in the Premiership.

——–

Tantalised by the prospect of the upper echelons, Costa took the red pill and Mephistopheles rewarded. Having never previously gotten past ten league goals his entire career, Costa busted the net 27 times in 2013–14, adding a further eight in Europe. So stark was the transformation that Costa and Atlético almost antagonised their way to a shock European Cup win.

Costa’s ascendancy to one of the most feared strikers in Europe offered up a darkly important lesson. He’s teaching us where the new edge lies in 21st century sport. Tactics begets nutrition; nutrition begets sports science; sports science begets, well, this. An insight into what it really means to give everything for the cause. If we truly want to be winners, then perhaps it behooves us all to jam a thumb up the centre half’s’ backside and call his wife a slag, all in the name of being all we can be?

——–

Getting up the noses of defenders was going swimmingly for Diego. And so, like all the best entrepreneurs, he expanded his remit. He went global. Provoking individuals was no longer enough, though. In order to summon that extra ten per cent in the international sphere, Costa realised it would be necessary to disaffect an entire nation…

Native Brazilians had turned out for other countries before. But only ever out of a desire to play some kind of international football of any description. In the manner that an Englishman might stoop to playing for Scotland or one of the Irelands. One simply does not refuse the gold and green shirt, in the way that one simply does not refuse the papacy, or the chance to pull the trigger on June Sarpong.

This didn’t stop Costa turning his back on the Selecão, though (albeit, for maximum effect, not before he hadn’t already turned out for them twice). As a result of Costa’s grand deceit, Brazil were thrust headlong into hosting a World Cup with Fred and Jô leading the line. It was bizarrely improper, and Brazilians were understandably furious. Their form-hitting stunner had jilted them on the eve of the prom, with only a pair of double-baggers waiting in the wings.

——–

The trail of feisty destruction mattered little to Diego. His star just kept getting brighter. A dream transfer to Chelsea followed post-World Cup and the goals kept flowing, buoyed as they were by stamps, arguments and an insistence on taunting Seamus Coleman following an own goal.

The league title was effectively won by March, with Costa 20 goals to the good in a mere 26 games. The old hamstrings played up from time to time, but that hardly seemed to matter, as Costa had once again managed to persuade every defence in the land to chase him rather than the ball.

——–

Costa had broken the machine. He’d found the special sauce. While everyone else was being propelled around by the fairground ride, Costa was actually flying.

Alas, nobody cheats gravity forever, and Costa eventually flew too close to the sun.

The danger was always what would happen if people stopped rising to his antics. A nagging question mark hung latent in the air: if Diego can’t get the juices flowing by instigating personal tête-à-têtes, how will he summon his extra ten per cent?

Worst fears are now unfolding. It takes two people to fight over a jumper, and Costa is being repeatedly left holding both sleeves. His kryptonite has become too obvious, he can’t get a rise out of a centre-back for love nor money. There’s only so many times you can urinate in the three bears’ porridge before Daddy Bear turns around and says: “you know what, you can just have that bowl of porridge. You’ve clearly got mental problems.”

——–

The goals have dried up. Chelsea are awful. Damned by showing too much of his hand, Costa now needs to prove to the world that he has a bastard-free ninety minutes of a decent standard in him.

An ability to evolve has always been crucial. Alan Shearer’s career managed to survive two major knee and angle surgeries, each time revising his skill-set to remain prosperous. When Michael Jordan returned to basketball, aged 32, he developed the game’s most lethal fade-away jump-shot to combat his loss of explosiveness. Most recently, when the well of coherent policy ran dry, canny old Donald Trump fell back on rampant Islamophobia to keep the polls purring. The greats adapt, that’s why they’re great.

The brief is now for Costa to find a way back to the top table. He’s a hunter, but he hasn’t had many meals lately. Time to sharpen the teeth and work out how to start killing again.

 

You can follow Sonny (@_SonnyPike) on Twitter or subscribe to Too Good for the English Game by clicking the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of this page (this button is mysteriously unavailable on the mobile version of the website).

Have some bloody self-respect, man.

Have some bloody self-respect, man.

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2 Responses to “Cleats of rage”

  1. Laurence Witherington January 4, 2016 at 4:41 am #

    A witty expansion on the cliche, “street football makes South Americans into good strikers.”

    • Sonny Pike January 7, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

      The last 25 years do seem to be ridiculously littered with stocky, powerful 5’8″ South American strikers with shoulder length dark hair playing at the highest level. Not saying they’re definitely operating a cloning program but questions need to be asked.

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