Look below to get a sneak peek at some extracts from our brand new biography of Diego Costa!
“The family moved to São Paulo when I was 14 and my brother started to go out partying at night,” recounts Costa. “I wanted to give up football so that I could earn some money. My dad would give me a couple of notes here and there, but it wasn’t really enough and sometimes I had to stay in because I couldn’t face going out on a date and letting the girl pay.”
Costa took a job with his uncle and the pair of them would drive a truck to the Paraguay border, where they would stock up on goods to sell in the Galería Pagé shopping centre.
Costa explains: “Whenever my uncle met anyone from football, he would mention my name. He’d say, ‘I’ve got this nephew who’s super-talented…’ But I didn’t want to play football if it stopped me earning money, especially since my uncle tended to pay me more than I’d actually earned, and I had no living costs because I stayed with him at the time. I saved up and bought myself a motorbike so that I could visit Lagarto, although my mother did everything she could to get me to sell it.”
Uncle Edson, however, had a stubborn streak and was to play a key role at this stage in Costa’s career. He insisted on taking his nephew for trials and eventually one club expressed an interest. Barcelona Esportivo Capela de Ibiúna was owned by a local businessman whose policy was to invest in young players. The team’s matches were therefore well attended by scouts.
“We had to play in a competition in Minas Gerais. I wasn’t keen because I wanted to work but my uncle insisted that I go and told me that he’d pay me anyway. So I went. Although in the end he didn’t pay me after all!”
“[Costa’s agent] Jorge Mendes tells me that he spotted him in the Taça de São Paulo, a tournament they play in January down there,” says Jesús García Pitarch, the man responsible for later bringing Costa to Atlético in his role as the Madrid club’s director of football. “It is an under-18 tournament and the final is always played in the Pacaembú [Corinthians’ stadium]. It’s a huge event and a big party for the whole city. Scouts and coaches from the big clubs always come to the final, but even in the early stages you see unbelievable players and there are a lot of clubs who do very well out of it. Even though Diego managed to get himself sent off in the first match – remarkable! – he had already caught someone’s eye.”
“I remember that I shouldn’t even have been playing that match because I had already been suspended for four months for slapping an opponent and then giving the referee a bit of lip when he showed me the red card,” recalls Costa. “I’ve no idea if someone had been pulling strings behind the scenes, but I ended up playing anyway.”
After the final whistle, a representative of Mendes approached Costa and talked about the possibility of playing in Europe.
“The minute I came off I talked to Mendes’ representative and they signed me up to go to Sporting de Braga. I didn’t hesitate for a moment because I knew that Jorge was behind the offer and that he was pretty much the best in the world.”
The idea was less well received at home. “When I signed for Braga, my dad and uncle took the contract to São Caetano, who offered the same deal for me to stay. My dad was worried that I would end up like the boys who are offered the chance to play in Europe only to be let down at the last minute. But I had given my word and in the end he started to believe that the Braga offer was genuine.”
The second leg of the League Cup semi-final ended with Chelsea on their way to Wembley and the final, but their star striker on his way to a three-game ban and the first sign that he had not completely subjugated the devil inside. While he had still yet to be red carded, Costa twice appeared to stamp on opponents – Emre Can and Martin Škrtel. He was also involved in a typically Costa-esque confrontation with Steven Gerrard and, before any of it, should have had a penalty when Škrtel brought him down.
After Branislav Ivanovic’s header at the start of extra-time had won it for Chelsea, video footage of his clash with Can was reviewed and a three-game suspension enforced. Shortly after news of that punishment came in, Costa was sitting down with Rob Draper of the Daily Mail. It provided a rare and in-depth analysis by the player of his own style of play, best summed up by Costa himself as “going to the limit”.
“As far as what happened on Tuesday, the main thing is when I get home and I can sleep knowing I’ve not done anything wrong, because I never meant to do that and it was not on purpose,” he said.
“And you can clearly see that on the video. But it is a suspension. I have to accept that, I have to take it. Obviously I feel sad because I’m not going to be able to play or to help the team. But I have to accept and respect it.
“I’m not saying I’m an angel — I’m no angel. You can see that. But every time I play I will play the same way because that’s the way I am. That’s what I need to do in order to support my family. That’s my bread and butter; also that’s what I need to do for this club, for the fans and for all the people involved in this club.
“On the pitch I will always be like that. That’s my character and I will always compete. I’m a different guy off the pitch – as you can see – but on it I will not change.”