The Spain international played a key role in two title triumphs during his time at Chelsea but at the age of 32 has struggled for form and fitness
Diego Costa and Luis Suarez’s strike partnership looked like a match made in hell, at least for opposition defenders.
“It’s really good,” Costa enthused after both netted in a 6-1 win over Granada on the opening day of the 2020-21 season. “One of us bites and the other kicks!”
However, this potentially deadly duo failed to do any real damage.
They started just one game alongside one another, against Celta on October 17, before Atletico announced on Tuesday that Costa’s contract with the club had been terminated six months early by mutual consent.
The reason for the split remains shrouded in mystery, with the Rojiblancos merely confirming Goal’s news that the striker had asked to leave for “personal reasons”.
It is difficult, then, to know what happens next for Costa.
As Goal has learned, he has already received one offer from Brazil, where he was born and raised, but it is believed that the former Chelsea No.9 would rather remain in Europe, meaning a return to England is a distinct possibility.
The Spain international was a force of nature for the majority of his three seasons at Stamford Bridge, with the infamously aggressive attacker proving ideally suited to the physicality of the Premier League, as he powered the Blues to two title triumphs under two different managers: Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
Costa will, thus, represent an attractive option for any English outfit looking for a No.9 during the January transfer window.
Struggling Arsenal have already been credited with an interest by the Spanish press, while Tottenham have long sought quality cover for Harry Kane, and a move to Spurs would obviously mean a reunion with Mourinho.
Wolves, though, are also searching for a centre-forward, with Raul Jimenez sidelined with a fractured skull, and a move to Molineux appears far more likely than Costa popping back up in London.
After all, the 32-year-old is represented by Jorge Mendes, who has strong ties with the Midlands outfit. In that sense, it appears to be a logical transfer for everyone concerned.
However, Wolves and any other interested suitors will be well aware that Costa is no longer the “animal” – as Mourinho called him – that terrorised Premier League defences at Chelsea.
He has been bedevilled by injury problems since rejoining Atletico in 2017 and his fitness issues have only increased over the past year.
Indeed, he has missed 32 games in total since the start of last season, with a variety of ailments, ranging from a groin problem to a herniated disc.
Even when he has played, he hasn’t performed with anything like the same kind of menace, which is why he had fallen behind Suarez in the pecking order, with the Uruguayan firmly established as the preferred partner for Joao Felix in attack.
Costa even recently made light of the fact that Suarez got back among the goals at the very moment he returned from his latest injury: “When I was out, he didn’t score, the bastard! I come back and he gets two!”
Suarez was hardly to blame for Costa’s relegation to the role of reserve, though. His dip in form pre-dates the arrival of the Barcelona legend.
After all, Costa scored 22 goals in all competitions in his final season at Chelsea; he managed 19 in total during the past three years at Atletico.
Simeone was still sorry to see him leave, which is hardly surprising, of course. Both are combustible characters willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Costa was, in that sense, the perfect centre-forward to lead Atleti’s attack during their sensational 2013-14 campaign, when they beat Barcelona to the Liga title and came within seconds of denying Real Madrid a 10th European Cup.
He hit 36 goals in all competitions that season but what stood out was his tenacity, his stubborn refusal to given centre-backs even a moment’s peace.
Costa repeatedly stepped over the line, of course, as he so often does – L’Equipe once labelled him the most “hated” player in football – but he also deserved admiration for the way in which he pushed himself to the limit.
He was so desperate to play in the 2014 Champions League final against Real that he underwent a bizarre treatment involving horse placenta and two-hour sessions of electroshocks.
In the end, he lasted just nine minutes before being forced off with a hamstring problem.
One wonders, then, if all of the battles he has fought on and off the field, with opponents and his own body, are now taking their toll.
Simeone, unsurprisingly, does not doubt Costa’s determination to make a success of his next move, which is precisely why Atleti have done their utmost to dissuade the Lagarto native from joining one of their rivals by negotiating a deal that means they will be owed a significant fee if he joins a Liga or Champions League rival.
“The club have been able to help him without being damaged and that generates peace of mind,” Simeone told reporters on Tuesday.
“You know that we love Diego, we have spent a lot of time together in the best way, we gave each other a lot and we have talked with him.
“[I] hope to be able to hug each other when we meet again, since we have not seen each other for a couple of days because he did not come to train while he was negotiating [his exit].
“But he has the need to find new challenges because he is fit, strong and I cannot imagine another scenario other than him going on to do good things, because he is a fighter.”
Several Premier League bosses may well feel likewise and reason that there is always a risk in signing a personality like Costa.
However, a player who has registered more yellow cards (22) than goals since leaving Chelsea in 2017 now looks more trouble than he’s worth.
Costa may seem like the answer to a striking problem for a number of Premier League managers, but it really would be wise to ask the question themselves why Atletico were willing to let him go…