Diego Costa: An unsavoury cheat or an opportunistic weapon?

It was fortunate that both Arsenal and Chelsea achieved Capital One Cup wins earlier this week as it probably helped the dust settle on their controversial encounter last weekend.

The FA also acted quickly to address the much discussed incident between Diego Costa and Gabriel Paulista. The pair were responsible for the weekend’s major talking point, which certainly provided interesting viewing.

The decision by the sport’s governing body to rescind Gabriel’s ban and hand one to Costa will leave many neutrals feeling justice has been done. Arsene Wenger though sees it as too little, too late given the impact on his team of referee Mike Dean’s shambolic flare-up management.

Costa meanwhile will now miss the next two league games thanks to this latest display of his unique Spanish-Brazilian blend of argy bargy. Fans love to hate the forward as much as he clearly loves a scrap and his behaviour is definitely far from sporting.

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Is he merely an unsavoury character then or should his opportunism merit more recognition?

Wenger certainly won’t be sending any his way. While the Arsenal boss accepted his own player was unwise to get involved, he lashed out at the Chelsea striker stating. “He can do what he wants and he stays on, everyone else that responds to it has been sent off. It’s unacceptable.”

Jose Mourinho meanwhile, was typically prickly in defending his own player, claiming that his forward should be named man of the match. Several bridges too far yes, but before the incident the marksman had indeed seen plenty of the ball and given Gabriel and his partner Laurent Koscielny a challenging afternoon with his energy, physicality and movement.

Neutrals could of course observe the pantomime unfolding just before half time and find plenty to dislike about Costa’s actions. Provocative, aggressive, unsporting and a poor example to youngsters looking on, yet ultimately crucial to his side taking three vital points.

The situation that developed in those few moments was exploited by the hit man with the same ruthless efficiency he uses to dispatch a loose ball bobbling around the six-yard box.

Gabriel Paulista should really have seen him coming. The Arsenal man engaged with his antagonist and subsequently paid the price. While the pair conducted their spat both were treading a fine line but with one crucial difference.

While the red mist clouded the defender’s mind, Costa’s objective was clear; he was focused on ensuring the situation, however heated, benefitted his side. Gabriel’s temper became a chance of sorts, and he took it.

By the time Mike Dean was brandishing the pivotal red card, Gabriel was losing all self control. Costa was standing quietly away from the crowd, mission complete.

Gabriel, like most defenders in the Premier League, will have been warned pre-match about the 26-year-old. He will have been instructed that while Costa relishes a physical confrontation, he is also a classic wind-up merchant.

The Arsenal coaching staff will have briefed their back line about the perils of falling into the former Atletico Madrid man’s trap. Unfortunately for Arsenal, in the heat of the moment, Gabriel failed to spot that he was being reeled in. Even more unfortunately, Mike Dean was snagged on the same hook.

Costa will always attempt to get his opponent to do something rash; a reckless tackle, a shirt-pull in the penalty area, an off the ball shove, it matters not – as long as they respond.

As soon as his bait is taken, he wastes no time in going in for the kill. After both him and Gabriel had been issued their respective yellow cards, you just knew that he would continue the situation, not because he had lost his composure but because there was something to be gained.

In this respect he is the perfect striker for Chelsea. Jose Mourinho has often received similar criticism for his win at all costs ethos.

In many ways, Costa embodies his manager on the field and that partly contributes to his success at Chelsea. Mourinho loves to cultivate and maintain an us-versus-them mentality and this seems to sit especially well with his main striker.

Diego Drogba became a Chelsea legend and he shares many of the same characteristics as his successor. An immensely talented and physical goalscorer but also an in-your-face battler, a confrontation specialist and a man who didn’t bat an eyelid if opponents hated him or if he left the field to the abuse of an entire crowd.

In the movies the best actors often play the bad guy. They’re not likeable, but they take home the awards.

Football needs these characters, too. Costa is the ultimate villain, Premier League public enemy number one and it’s easy to be appalled by his behaviour, but most Chelsea fans probably wouldn’t swap him if they had the chance.

Article title: Diego Costa: An unsavoury cheat or an opportunistic weapon?

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