Diego Costa's Bromance with Coach Antonio Conte Is Driving Chelsea's Success

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2016

Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (2nd L) embraces Chelsea's Brazilian-born Spanish striker Diego Costa (L) after the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England on October 30, 2016.
Chelsea won the game 2-0. / AFP / GLYN KIRK / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

It was a moment to warm the soul on a miserably dank early afternoon in south London.

Diego Costa had just scored his 13th Premier League goal in 17 matches for Chelsea this season and, after celebrating with his team-mates, ran over to the dugout to embrace his manager, Antonio Conte. Their hug would only last a short moment, but in those few seconds, we saw exactly what it is that has inspired Costa to propel Chelsea back to top of the Premier League this term.

The striker is in love with his manager and this time it isn't unrequited; Conte feels exactly the same way about him.

Let's be frank—without a goalscorer of Costa's talents, Conte's famed 3-4-3 system wouldn't be what it is. There are many components that make it work, yet to be fully effective, it requires a striker who isn't goal shy.

Costa has directly won Chelsea a staggering 16 points this season. That's over one third of their 43-point tally thus far. He's won the Blues matches against West Ham United, Watford, Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion and now Crystal Palace. Back in September, he rescued a point in a 2-2 draw with Swansea City.

Of course, we're not mentioning his exploits against Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, where Costa was heavily involved in the Blues overcoming direct rivals in the title race as they chalked up the wins to record 11 in a row (and counting), dating back to early October.

On the back of a season where his application and efforts were questioned, Costa's reminding us now of what a supreme talent he is. He's proving there isn't a better striker in the English game. At this moment, with him topping the scoring charts, there isn't a better goalscorer, either.

Manager and player share a moment after Costa's goal put Chelsea ahead against Crystal Palace.
Manager and player share a moment after Costa's goal put Chelsea ahead against Crystal Palace.Clive Rose/Getty Images

For a player like Costa, whose reputation has been built around his physical prowess and perceived attempts to flout the laws of the game, that it is something as divine as love that has restored his powers will surprise many. We look at Costa, with his rough looks and bad-boy status, and we expect a hard exterior that protects a tougher inner core. We don't expect him to play on emotion; only he does.

Last season was evidence of that fact, when the negative headlines surrounded him and refused to go away. The "Costa Crimes" were affecting him and with his hardline defence of the striker, Jose Mourinho only fed the attention he received. It backfired.

Costa's body language spoke of a player, not in conflict with his club, but struggling to come to terms with the persona that followed him everywhere he travelled. He was painted as football's outlaw; he was a target for fans and the media.

Costa scores his header against Crystal Palace.
Costa scores his header against Crystal Palace.Dan Mullan/Getty Images

It's only with the proverbial arm around his shoulder—or hug in this instance—that Conte has helped nurse Costa back to the player we all knew he could be. From English football's bad boy, he's becoming the darling of the Premier League.

That is significant.

Every week in his post-match press conferences, Conte encounters the same questions. Journalists will constantly ask what is that the manager has done to transform Costa's fortunes, but the answer has been there for us to see all along. It's simple affection; Conte loves Costa for who he is. He hasn't attempted to change him.

Because of that, the striker has reacted. He's started to justify the manager's faith in his abilities by scoring the goals that are ultimately winning Chelsea football matches. He isn't picking up cautions and missing crucial games—his yellow card against Palace that rules him out of Chelsea's Boxing Day fixture with Bournemouth was his first in 10 games.

We know this because that hug—however brief it was—tells us of Costa's fondness for his manager. It's common the pair celebrate together at the final whistle, but this was the first time all season that Costa had picked out Conte with a goal celebration. Even after those late, late winners against West Ham and Watford, Costa was more consumed by celebrating the moment with fans and players around him.

This was different, though. Costa had already been booked against Palace and he knew the consequences. He knew it meant he would be missing in Chelsea's next outing and he had to repent. Costa did that by scoring the goal that secured another three points, and he ran to Conte seeking his acceptance.

He got it with the manager hugging him back, which is why it would have stirred the emotions of the Chelsea fans who saw it. It was a human moment from characters who aren't necessarily associated with those qualities.

Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (R) reacts as he congratulates Chelsea's Brazilian-born Spanish striker Diego Costa following the English Premier League football match between Middlesbrough and Cheslea at Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, nor
LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

If we look across the board at Chelsea, throughout the entire squad, we can see that being repeated. Conte is building personal relationships that are inspiring every player in his squad. There's a harmony that has replaced the chaos of old.

When the situation surrounding Chelsea's collapse last season really took hold, Mourinho was the wrong character to have around. His willingness to embrace provocation meant the Blues were rolling from one disaster to another every time they stepped out on the pitch.

The club needed something different. Above all else, they needed to take players like Costa out of the firing line. Conte has stepped in and gradually achieved that with Costa. A kindred spirit, he understands what powers him.

What's powering Chelsea right now is their flourishing bromance.

                               

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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