18 November 2013

Is Diego Costa the real deal—and would Atletico part with him?

As we look ahead to the January transfer window and assess our needs, it's abundantly clear that we need someone to assist (and compete with) Giroud. While it would be nice to see Bendtner or Sanogo or Akpom rise to the occasion, this is wishful thinking.
Of the names tossed about—Suarez, Lewandowksi, Benzema—there are doubts, variously, about their availability, price, character. Suarez will cost a pretty penny or two but may not last the season, given his antics. Lewandowski seems to have his heart set on joining Bayern. Benzema has been knocked as lazy and has a court-case coming up. Therefore, it's worth casting a wider net in order to ensure that we can get the kind of striker we need, one who can score, is willing to work, and who might actually be available.

By these standards, Diego Costa may not qualify, at least not 100%, but he's certainly worth a look. Scorer of thirteen goals in as many La Liga matches, he's doing his best to help Atletico fans forget the departure over the summer of Radamel Falcao. On one hand, Costa signed a new contract over the summer, ending speculation that he might join Liverpool. On the other, he recently announced that he would represent Spain and not Brazil in the World Cup, a huge statement of ambition for the Brazilian-born striker. In the first case, he may have rejected Liverpool's advances over the summer because they won't be in any European competitions. In the second, he may have seen that his best chance to play, not to mention win, in the World Cup is by playing for Spain instead of Brazil. In both cases, Costa's desire to win is clear. Spain, after all, are among the favorites to win—but they don't seem to have a striker, unless Fernando Torres can prove to del Bosque that he deserves to play.

How does this all concern us? Well, between the new contract, being cup-tied, and auditioning for Spain in the World Cup, a January move seems unlikely. Atletico will certainly progress to the knock-out stage of the Champions League on top of all that. However, there are enticements. He could conceivably come to Arsenal in January while we're still atop the league (or close to it—knock on wood) and have time enough to bed-in before a tough string of fixtures in March. By then, Atletico's La Liga prospects may have faded to the point that challenging for the title there is off the table—and with it, Champions League football next season. True, he'd be unavailable to help us this year in the Champions League, but why not unleash him against a few Prem and FA Cup opponents, keeping Giroud fresh to face whoever it is we'd face in the knock-out stage?

Style-wise, Costa has been compared to Luis Suarez, if only for skill-set and ability. His discipline record is, at first blush, a bit spotty as he's picked up silly bookings in years past (notably during some run-ins with the always courteous Sergio Ramos and Pepe), but he's been remarkably disciplined thus far with only two yellow-cards to date. He's been described as feisty, and the kind of dribbler who can carve into defenses and put defenders on their back foot, provoking them into fouling him. In short, he seems like the kind of player whom fans hate...until he plays for their club, but such feelings are based not on being dirty or divey but as a result of him tormenting defenders until they themselves resort to dirty play. He's nonetheless the kind of villain whose rugged play—and results—get under defenders' skin.

What would it take to get him? We were briefly linked with him in July for a release-clause of €25m/£21m, a figure that has certainly changed after he signed that new contract and has gone on to score a baker's dozen, but it's still well within our budget (don't let Atleti see that last bit). Could it be done? Who's to say? It feels every bit as likely as signing any other striker we've been linked with, maybe more likely than dreaming of Lewandowski, for example. On another level, the South American pipeline is one that we haven't really explored all that much lately. As much as I look forward to the return of some proper footballing, I don't mind indulging in a little bit of transfer-window wish-listing...