It’s easy to overlook Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa as the successor to Radamel Falcao’s throne because Costa, a 24-year-old Brazilian international, is the most hated La Liga footballer by a significant distance.
Laced with a motor-mouth that crosses all lines of civility, a habitual need to cry wolf despite being a hulking 6’2” centre-forward and a schadenfreude-filled persona—how could you not detest Costa?
He’s a quadruple threat: possesses Jordi Alba–esque petulance, is a nutter like Pepe, brings the game into disrepute a la Luis Suarez and comes from the Joey Barton-school of talking trash.
Yet, you can’t help but watch Costa masterfully troll opposing players into a madcap moment.
Sevilla’s upstart midfielder, Geoffrey Kondogbia, a monk when compared to teammates Gary Medel and Ivan Rakitic, just had to kick a grounded Costa, even though Kondogbia had watched Medel, a hothead, capitulate to Costa earlier in the game.
Kondogbia, a Frenchman with African roots, claimed Costa made monkey noises during the game, according to Football Espana).
According to a report from Tim Conn of Inside Spanish Football, Alvaro Negredo said his teammates were well aware of Costa’s underhand tactics yet still succumbed to the temptation of hitting the bothersome Brazilian: "We know how Diego Costa provokes players and we fell into the trap."
Costa, a shamefully superlative instigator, has the dubious honour of having an opposing player’s saliva splattered over his face on two separate occasions.
Costa managed to have a running battle with half of Betis’ team, turning himself into a pinata as the Beticos players spent more time hacking him than pushing for an equaliser.
That game at the Vicente Calderon was filled with bizarrely amusing stories.
Canas, Betis’ holding midfielder, didn’t just casually stroll up to Costa and twist his ear, he also sardonically patted the Brazilian on the head, who was playacting with vintage Didier Drogba form.
When both teams were scuffling, the camera focused in on the fight, though Costa, the frizzy-haired big Brazilian and the guilty pleasure of football writers around the world, was nowhere to be seen.
Instead of barging his way into fracas in a manner associated with Jose Pinto, Barcelona’s backup goalkeeper/cheerleader/brawler, Costa sheepishly walked towards the melee with no intent of getting stuck in.
Well, what about Amaya’s reprehensible spit?
There’s an irreconcilable relationship between the two.
In a previous game, Costa jovially put on his finest Richard Sherman impression of “you mad, bro?” in front of Amaya. According to Sid Lowe of The Guardian, Amaya had this to say: "Costa was shouting and thanking me for the gift. If my teammates had not held me back, I would have killed him. That shows what kind of person he is: he has no heart and no shame."
With that context, you can't excuse Amaya's actions, but you understand his frame of mind.
The Ramos situation was an example of media outlets, who didn't watch the game, going to a ready-made storyline: "Real Madrid defender disgraces club again!"
Costa did the same thing, he had spat into his glove and flung his saliva at Ramos, but most of the press didn't mention that.
Christian Vieri, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Falcao and Costa—wait, what?
Do you see how Costa's antics overshadow his potential to be Atletico's next great modern striker?
Casual footballing fans are more likely to know Costa as a troublemaker or the guy who was spat on twice, rather than a complete striker, who has grafted his way to the top having started from the bottom, just like Drogba, Olivier Giroud, Graziano Pelle and Dado Prso.
Valencia manager Ernesto Valverde believes Costa is slightly better than Falcao, who has scored 20 more league goals, according to Goal.com's Will Jones.
Alejandro Arribas, Osasuna's erratic defender who led La Liga in yellow cards last season and has the most red cards this season, says Costa is more superior than Falcao, as reported by Football Espana: "Diego Costa is now even more important than Falcao. He is a key player for any team. I would always want him on my team."
Arribas would know from firsthand experience having played with Costa at Rayo Vallecano, where the defender watched the Brazilian and Michu, now of Premier League side Swansea City, combine brilliantly in the 6-0 win over Arribas' future team, Osasuna.
Last season at Rayo, Costa started the least amount of games (15) for a player with 10 La Liga goals or more.
Who scored more goals in this season's Copa del Rey than Cristiano Ronaldo (7) and Lionel Messi (4)? Costa (8).
Are you aware that he has more league assists (7) than Leo (6), Angel Di Maria (5), Isco (1) and five of the seven players who've netted 17 goals or more this campaign?
Don't forget about that George Weah-like run vs. Espanyol, a 64-minute hat-trick against Osasuna in 2011 or his rags to riches story from street footballer to a pivotal piece of Diego Simeone's Atleti team.
Unlike Falcao, a traditional No. 9, Costa likes to float around like Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Costa is a more all-round forward than Falcao but lacks the prolific goalscoring to be considered a world-class striker.
In the past, the same criticism was leveled at Ibrahimovic, who was 27 years old when he first scored over 20 league goals in a season during the 2008-09 season for Inter Milan.
Impoverished youth, a broken home, the lack of a father figure as one of seven children, playing barefoot on cobbled streets.
Suárez, by his own admission, embraces what the Uruguayans call 'picardia'. Loosely translated, it means to be cunning, deceitful even.
You can see how he applies it on the field.
Suárez’s story is one of minimal education, maximum willpower and an unremitting lack of self-control.
A stop-at-nothing attitude where the lines between what is acceptable and intolerable are stretched.
Now, read this quote from Costa in this report by Richard Martin of Football Espana:
Boys who grew up playing in academies are taught to control themselves and respect others, but no-one ever told me otherwise, I didn't have a school to teach me this.
The street was my school.
I was used to seeing players elbowing each other in the face and thought it was the norm.
Over the next few seasons in a post-Falcao Atletico team, you can hate Costa all you want, but like Suarez, you'll find it hard to deny his standing as one of the best forwards in the game.