Almost 12 months ago today, Douglas Costa was in the midst of getting knocked out of the Champions League in humiliating manner. The Brazilian was utterly hopeless—as was the rest of his team—as Shakhtar Donetsk were hammered 7-0 by Bayern Munich in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie.
At the time, Costa was a talent who hadn't achieved his potential. Signed in 2010 as a 19-year-old, he'd looked to be a potential superstar for Mircea Lucescu's side. Yet he struggled to become a reliable producer in attack for his first few years in Ukraine.
In 2013-14, Costa looked to turn the corner, and he ended the campaign with seven goals and 14 assists in all competitions—career highs in both categories.
Yet the outbreak of war in Ukraine's east in 2014 had a negative effect on the player as Shakhtar found themselves refugees, training in Kiev and playing home games in Lviv.
In his final season at Shakhtar, Costa recorded five goals and seven assists in all competitions. Among his teammates, Alex Teixeira and Luiz Adriano were far more productive, and Taison was on his level.
Yet last summer, Bayern Munich turned down the temptation of moving for ultra-expensive attackers like Angel Di Maria, Antoine Griezmann and Raheem Sterling. They even overlooked Teixeira and Taison, who also could have satisfied their need for an attacking midfielder. Germany's most successful club instead signed Costa for €30 million (according to Transfermarkt).
Costa arrived in Munich shortly before his 25th birthday. He was athletically mature, but he still hadn't made good on the potential he'd had as a young player. Typically, wingers who aren't on their way to greatness as they approach their mid-20s never reach the top level. Costa has been an exception; he hit the ground running in Munich, and hasn't looked back.
With Franck Ribery's ankle injury woes persistent, Costa had no competition for a starting role on the left wing.
In his Bundesliga debut against Hamburg, he assisted Bayern's third and scored a late fifth in a 5-0 rout. He went on to record 10 assists in his first seven league games, including at least one in each. It was remarkable consistency especially for a player who previously had only shown class in brief spurts.
He also seemed to come up aces when his team needed him; with Bayern down to 10 men and a goal behind Hoffenheim, he set up both his team's goals in a dramatic come-from-behind win.
If Alex Teixeira is worth £39m (he's not) then Bayern pinching Douglas Costa for £23m from Shakhtar was an absolute steal.— Joe Krishnan (@joekrishnan) January 22, 2016
It may be true that Costa's form hasn't been quite the same since a muscular injury saw him miss the month of December; he's had his ups and downs. And he definitely needs to work on his passing, which although good, isn't on the level of the world's elite playmakers; he relies a bit too much on his world-class dribbling and blistering pace to create chances, but the final ball can be suspect especially when he doesn't have space to dribble into.
As well, a player of his quality should score more than Costa has: Even Ribery, purely a playmaker, has only ended two seasons with under 10 goals (one of which was his injury-riddled 2014-15).
Overall, however, Costa has been simply fantastic. With 17 assists, he's already eclipsed his career best and is doing so in a tougher league than ever before. And this is with nearly three months left in the campaign.
He's taken enormous strides this season, even well into his career. And accordingly, there's no ruling out the possibility of him becoming even better in the months to come. He told Globo (h/t Bundesliga.de) in December that his intent is to one day contend for the Ballon d'Or, and at this rate, one can only see it as a possibility.
So talented, Costa has finally made himself into the superstar he'd promised to be.