For 78 minutes last night I lived the life of one of Spanish football’s top players. I was doing exactly what Diego Costa was doing: sitting in the freezing cold at Stamford Bridge, watching Brazil play!
I went to their friendly with Russia at Chelsea’s ground hoping to see one of La Liga’s most talked about players of the season make his international debut. I did get to see it, but the lack of pitch time he got suggested he has some way to go before he can persuade Big Phil Scolari of his ability to lead the Brazilian line.
Costa’s stock is nowhere near as high in his home country as it is in Spain. Having made his reputation outside Brazil, he has no real constituency back home to push his claims for international recognition. Brazilian football is riven with politics and each club, each region has its own power bloc.
Until fairly recently the seleccao rarely picked a full strength side for home friendlies, instead selecting a regionally biased side depending on where the game took place. Huge clubs like Flamengo, Corinithians and Fluminense have always canvassed for their stars to be selected and railed against the unfairness of players from rival clubs being selected ahead of their own. Costa has never enjoyed the benefit of such advocacy, because he has never shone at a big Brazilian club.
Even in the era of globalisation there has been a certain parochialism in Brazilian football. While proud of the achievements of their fellow countrymen in Europe, unless they hit the heights such exports find that out of sight is out of mind. There are, after all, an enormous amount of Brazilians who set off round the world to live off their skills. Hulk has had to work hard to break down that attitude: you suspect Diego Costa has a similar long journey ahead of him.
Last night he got 12 minutes on the pitch. For the first half of that time, he was peripheral: Brazil weren’t playing terribly well and the fact that they were behind lent a sense of despair to their play. Perhaps that was why Scolari threw Costa on: alongside Fred and Hulk he formed part of a particularly muscular forward line. However, his side’s desperation meant Costa, playing off Fred, lacked supply.
However, in the closing moments they started to mount some pressure and Costa started to get involved. He was integral in one of the best moves of an entertaining match, linking things smoothly as he was at the heart of a series of give-and-go’s which ended in Hulk being fed into a shooting position which he couldn’t capitalise upon.
It was enough to beg the question why wasn’t Costa given more time to show what he can do at international level? The answer is a little worrisome for those who’d like to see that happen.
Scolari has been parachuted into the project to prepare a winning side for their own World Cup at a rather late stage (the story behind that is another example of how riven with politics the Brazilian game is!) He has no time to experiment, and has already shown that he will be ruthless: the way he jettisoned Ronaldinho after his first match back as coach despite some impressive domestic form showed he has no time to lose. Ronaldinho put in a lacklustre performance against England last month, and Scolari decided he’d already seen enough. Rather than waste more time seeing if Ronaldinho could up his game, he was dispensed with and the next option brought in.
The worry is, if Costa was given such a short time to prove his worth in the circumstances, then Scolari surely isn’t really looking at him as a serious possibility. A limp Fred led the line with little gusto, lacking strength and drive, Costa’s main qualities, yet Scolari never looked to make what to me was the obvious change.
I hope I’m wrong and Costa is given his chance to shine. If he isn’t, he’s welcome to complete the experiment and live the life of a Welsh football fan just as I stepped into his frozen shoes last night! I’ll have a beer in the fridge and a Wrexham match on DVD ready for you to pop round Diego!