Diego Costa can be a horrible bully. Snarling and spiteful, he’s a bar-room-brawling brute of a centre forward; a nasty piece of work.
And that’s precisely why I love him so much as a player.
Football isn’t supposed to be genteel. Hostility, as long as it’s within the rules should in my view (and let’s put his stamp on Emre Can to one side for a moment) be embraced not frowned upon, and to me the Chelsea man’s old-fashioned abrasiveness has been a highlight of the season so far. Strikers used to unnerve defenders as a matter of course. These days, it’s all too polite.
In fact there was something slightly joyous in the way he actively spoiled for a scrap in this week’s League Cup semi-final against Liverpool. Watching someone try and intimidate opponents with a combination of menace and physical force was a throwback to days gone by, when that was the norm – even if he did over step the mark with Can.
The 26-year-old can play too.
He’s much more than just a blue-shirted battering ram.
For Chelsea’s intricate artistes to thrive, they need a striker that’s prepared to man up and lead the line; someone to take the bumps as they bounce the ball off them – and the Spaniard embraces that responsibility. He doesn’t pose or idly wait around for the ball to come to him, and when it does, his touch is sound enough to help him look after possession like it’s a long lost friend.
And then there are his goals. So far this season he’s bagged 17 (all in the Premier League) with an impressive range of finishes. Like most predatory strikers, Costa can smell a chance instinctively – and when it comes along he doesn’t need to look up to see where the goal is. There’s real guile to his game, beyond the growls.
I think he’s brilliant, but is he the best striker in English football?
Many football fans, and I can hear you screaming it now, would argue that Sergio Aguero is the better player – and it’s certainly a close run thing.
Manchester City’s leading scorer has 19 goals to his name this term, 14 of which have come in the Premier League, where minute-for-minute he has scored more often than anyone else in history. Yes, he’s even ahead of Shearer and Henry on that front.
If Diego Costa is a bit of rough, then City’s star striker is much more of a head turner.
Gifted with athleticism, grace, finesse and a fabulous technique, Aguero glides around the pitch wreaking a much more subtle sort of carnage. He’ll dart, skip and slice through opponents, all with a shimmer of sparkle.
He has under-estimated power too. At five foot eight inches he’s not big, but keep an eye on how often defenders knock the South American off the ball. Hint: You’ll spend an awful long time waiting for it to happen.
Aguero is incredibly forceful and like all top players, there’s fire in the belly, as well as brilliance in the boots.
Manuel Pellegrini is a huge fan. The Chilean believes Aguero is talented enough to win next year’s Balon d’Or ahead of Messi and Ronaldo. While that’s a step too far for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to say he’s one of the best players I’ve ever watched in English football. He’s also an outstanding role model.
Remarkably, just four seasons ago this pair of 26-year-old Premier League hot shots were teammates at Atletico Madrid. One was an international superstar, the other a barely-used understudy.
I’d been looking forward to seeing the pair reunite as equals in the match of the season at Stamford Bridge this weekend, but Costa’s ugly stamp on Liverpool’s Can now looks certain to see him banned.
I’ll still ask the question though…
If you had to choose one of these two players to play for your team, who would it be?
As much as I admire and enjoy watching Sergio Aguero, my pick would be his former stand-in, this week’s bad boy, Diego Costa.
Having a star man that’s willing to get his hands dirty is a rare and wonderful thing. Big and brilliant strikers that fight like he does are fast becoming extinct in the modern game. I’d rather he was on my side, every day of the week.