Diego Costa admitted he was “scared to death”. Not, admittedly, by the prospect of Premier League defenders, by the sight of a fixture listing that might include clashes with such horrifying figures as John Stones, Cesar Azpilicueta and Steve Cook; in spite of everything, the heyday of the hatchet man has handed, with most outlawed into extinction by extra stringent refereeing.
No, maybe essentially the most intentionally intimidating striker in latest Premier League historical past was terrified by his co-stars in a moody masterpiece of an unveiling video: a pack of wolves. “Holding that chain, I kept thinking, ‘What if this wolf thinks about jumping on top of me?’ and then three of them did,” Costa stated; a debut in opposition to Manchester City on Saturday is simply potential as a result of he survived the expertise.
His previous and his repute meant he needed to undergo. His new employers seized the chance to announce the signing of a footballer indelibly related to ferocity. There could also be no extra excellent synergy of a participant and a membership’s nickname than Costa and Wolves. A few years in the past, Jose Mourinho described him as an “animal.” It was a praise. Bruno Lage’s wolf pack have felt too good to benefit the time period, these neat, technically completed passers who appeared inoffensive. Costa at all times provided the specter of random violence and the promise of menace even when his tally of Premier League crimson playing cards truly stands at zero. Somehow, the striker he’s now understudying, the enviably amiable Raul Jimenez, was despatched off twice himself. Implausibly, maybe the Mexican is the dangerous boy of the double act.
But Costa’s return to England could also be welcomed by those that felt the Premier League had turn into too refined in his absence. Costa is again, able to deliver an idiosyncratic mix of snidery and shithousery, intent on conducting working battles, turning soccer matches into grudge matches whereas additionally scoring targets.
Whether he can nonetheless do the extra prosaic half and discover the web is a moot level. Given their barren spells, Wolves really want a prolific ahead greater than a provocative one. They have contrived to common below a purpose a sport over their final 102 Premier League matches. These explicit Wolves have lacked chunk.
Costa is an attention-grabbing addition, his outsized persona making him the antidote to lots of his new and quieter teammates. The actuality is that he’s additionally a signing stemming from desperation. He was simply above Andy Carroll on the shortlist of the free and undesirable they compiled when the deadline-day purchase Sasa Kalajdzic was injured on his debut.
Costa has not performed in 2022. He has made 19 appearances in 20 months. In greater than 5 years since his final Chelsea look, he has performed 100 membership video games and solely scored 24 targets. A late developer additionally appears to have declined early. In between, he was good. His peak got here in a five-season interval between 2012 and 2017 when he reached the Champions League ultimate and gained La Liga with Atletico Madrid, claimed two Premier League titles with Chelsea and scored 115 targets. He was a totemic, talismanic determine, the bruiser who led from the entrance.
He was most likely the final quintessential Mourinho participant, together with his hints of malevolence, fondness for confrontation and willingness to be unpopular. He was a nonetheless extra archetypal Diego Simeone footballer, a snarling warrior who felt a face of pragmatism, even when a few of his feuds had been extra private than pragmatic. Along the best way, teammates steered Costa was truly a pleasing kind and a joker, however these weren’t photos he typically portrayed on the pitch.
There is a case for saying Chelsea have by no means correctly changed him: given Costa’s makes an attempt to league for a lot of the 2016-17 season and his subsequent decline, Antonio Conte might have been proper to discard him, although a 27-word textual content message to tell the striker he was not in his plans was an undignified solution to finish an explosive Chelsea profession.
Since then, the shift in footballing fashions has meant his prime has felt extra like one other period. Subsequent Premier League champions have had a sleeker striker, in Sergio Aguero, or false nines, not a Costa-type goal man. Wolves might require a penalty-box presence, somebody with aerial skill and a foil to their aptitude gamers, although in addition they want the finisher Jimenez was earlier than he fractured his cranium.
Part of the priority with Costa is that his sport relied on a physicality which age, inactivity and common decay has dented. There is a comparability with a former teammate, additionally born in Brazil, additionally reliant on his energy and now in his dotage: Willian was vastly efficient for Chelsea, totally ineffective for Arsenal as he misplaced a few of his pace and has now returned to the Premier League with Fulham. He, too, was signed on a free switch, after the window had shut, after a forgettable spell in his homeland.
The Premier League can stage some unlikely comebacks; if Costa’s return feels inconceivable, nonetheless, the stranger half could also be if he can recapture the brilliance he confirmed for Chelsea. The division’s throwback villain will goal to be the power of previous however could look a curious anachronism.