Belfast Telegraph

FA set to stamp all over Chelsea striker Diego Costa

Bad boy Diego programmed to rattle opponent and Mourinho is still a big admirer

By Sam Wallace

Diego Costa is virtually certain to miss Saturday’s Premier League potboiler against Manchester City after the Chelsea striker was hit with a violent conduct charge by the Football Association for his first-half stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can during Tuesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg.

The charge carries with it a three-game ban, although Costa was exonerated for a second-half stamp on Martin Skrtel. Chelsea have until 6pm today to decide whether or not to appeal against the decision and if they do so, the independent regulatory commission will meet to decide Costa’s fate tomorrow.

It is unlikely that the charge would be overturned, and the most Costa (left) can hope for would be a reduction of the three-match ban, which would encompass games against City, Aston Villa and Everton. Under the fast-track process it means the incident will be dealt with in time for the weekend games. There will be no personal hearing for the controversial frontman.

If you have not seen the footage in question it is worth watching the video of Diego Costa taking on Pepe and Sergio Ramos in a game between Atletico and Real Madrid in 2012 because on that evidence, Martin Skrtel did not get the full treatment on Tuesday.

That is to say the Liverpool man is yet to experience what you might call Costa's signature move, the gob-in-a-glove.

Against Real, Costa - last night charged by the FA for an alleged stamp in the Capital One Cup semi-final - repeatedly spat into his glove and then surreptitiously flicked the contents into Ramos' face.

It is hard to think of a more repellent wind-up trick, and it would be fair to say that it worked in incensing Ramos.

Again and again he tried to explain what had happened to a bemused referee, who was never quite close enough to work out what the Brazilian was up to.

Watching from the dugout, the Real manager that night was Jose Mourinho who, far from looking upon Costa's actions with horror, evidently recognised in Atletico's No 19 a man he considered useful.

Given that they shared the same Portuguese super-agent, Jorge Mendes, it was nigh on inevitable that once Mourinho had his feet under the desk at Chelsea, Costa would not be too far behind.

Against Liverpool in Tuesday night's second leg, Costa demonstrated just how far he was prepared to go to win a match.

He looks like a guerrilla fighter straight out of Hollywood central casting or one of those Treadstone assassins routinely unleashed to dispatch Jason Bourne.

The big difference being that it would be hard to imagine Costa not finishing the job. His two stamps on Emre Can and Skrtel were sufficiently disguised that Mourinho could be bold enough post-match to make the claim they were "absolutely accidental".

That was a nonsense, of course, although by the following day even those at the FA with some experience of these matters were confessing that the Can stamp was the one more likely to stick while the Skrtel incident was by no means clear.

So it turned out that Costa was charged with violent conduct over the Can stamp but not the other. There are no hiding places for the dark arts in modern football's HD super slow-mo world and it is a better place for that.

Gary Lineker tweeted on Tuesday night that Costa was "a throwback to an age of beastly centre-forwards", the natural heir to Mick Harford, Billy Whitehurst, John Fashanu, Duncan Ferguson et al.

Of course, those strikers played against some beastly centre-halves too and when you consider those whom Costa has taken on - Ramos and Pepe; John Terry in last season's Champions League; Ryan Shawcross before Christmas; now Skrtel - it is not as if he is picking on the weaklings.

There can be no condoning of some of what Costa does, including the challenges on Can and Skrtel. But there is something utterly belligerent about him, a belligerence that, for all his clenched-jaw, hard-stare grandstanding, can be quite a compelling quality in a centre-forward.

You can see what Mourinho spotted in him, even if it can be impossible to defend him at times.

As a rule, he does not wait for the first warning tackle from his centre-back to commence hostilities. Right from the very start of a game he works his favourite old trick, an innocuous step backwards and the planting of the studs on his heel into the toes of a defender.

You often see a centre-half marking Costa throw up his arms in protest in the first few minutes of a game.

It is notable that boot sponsors adidas did not regard Costa as quite a big enough name to take centre-stage for their latest boot commercial, "There will be haters", despite the fact he is much better-suited to that dubious notion than the clean-cut James Rodriguez or Gareth Bale.

But Costa was there under the "haters" slogan in a full-page adidas advert in Tuesday's match programme, hamming up the bad-boy pose.

The anecdotal evidence is that off the pitch he is a good bloke, which has helped with his integration into the Spain squad. His team-mates like him.

Even Ramos could often be relied upon, at the final whistle, to throw an arm around the man who had earlier tried to wipe saliva on his cheek.

The natural comparison is with another South American, recently departed from the Premier League, who does take centre-stage on the adidas commercial.

Luis Suarez, however, always had a powerful need to be liked. His usual post-offence cycle of implausible denial, followed by confused explanation, and on to reluctant apology suggested he had a hard time being a hate figure. Costa, it seems, would not have it any other way.

But stamping is unforgivable and it seems that Costa will indeed pay a high price.

He takes a lot of punishment from defenders. Both push that battle to the limit.

The difference with Costa is that he does so without apology, impervious to what anyone thinks.

There is a place in the game for that beastly old striker, but he will now have time on his hands to contemplate where the boundaries lie.

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