Sunday 25 March 2018

Sympathy limited as serial aggressor becomes the victim

Mourinho rant over double standards could energise Costa

Chelsea's Diego Costa wears a bandage next to manager Jose Mourinho
Chelsea's Diego Costa wears a bandage next to manager Jose Mourinho

David Hytner

To Jose Mourinho, the double standards were as plain and painful as the whack that Diego Costa took to the side of the head.

The problem with trying to paint Costa as the innocent victim is obvious, but the Chelsea manager felt that he was on safe ground when he looked back to the flashpoint in last Sunday's Premier League defeat at Manchester City, when his player was left dazed by a stray elbow from Fernandinho.

"I can guarantee you if it's Diego Costa that does that . . . I can guarantee you red card," Mourinho said. "If not red card, video footage and suspension. I can guarantee that."

Mourinho has not forgotten the ban that Costa received last season for his stamp on Liverpool's Emre Can, which went unseen by the officials but was replayed in all its gory by the television stations. More pertinently, the FA had a look at it and ruled against Costa. It should be noted that Fernandinho was booked last Sunday, which closed the door to any retrospective punishment.

"I didn't read the press - I don't even know what you wrote about it," Mourinho said, with reference to the Fernandinho elbow, which was his way of saying: "There was no hoo-ha. Why not?"

Mourinho's general points were sound. Costa was sinned against in the incident and it is fair to say that the reaction would probably have been more vociferous and extreme had the striker been the aggressor.

Mourinho's next point, though, was a tougher sell. Fernandinho had complained after the game that Costa was "always trying to offend the opposition", and even the most diehard Chelsea supporters would concede that their No 19 can be a wind-up merchant, who throws his weight around. It is part of the reason that they love him.

But Mourinho claimed the wind-ups were now on Costa, and Fernandinho was merely the latest opponent to target him, in order to try to draw a reaction from him. "And the reaction is punished?" Mourinho said. "Yes, yes. We are speaking about reputation, but what I see, game after game, is more of the same. It's Diego doing his job and no more than that. I think enough time [has passed] to forget his reputation, because tell me, when was the last time that something happened?"

When you live by the sword or the snarl, then sympathy is rarely part of the equation, and Costa would never ask for any. He gets angry; he wants to compete more fiercely and win more badly.

Mourinho likes Costa when he is angry and the player has been angry over the past week. So has Mourinho and the rest of the squad. "Unhappy," was the word that he used to describe them collectively. The indignation smarted after the City result and the stuttering start to the season. There has been an edge to the training, an intensity, and the desire to make amends, beginning at West Brom today.

"We have trained better than ever this week," Mourinho said, and he added that he had started to go to the gym every day to get fitter. "Maybe I need to have sharper actions on the touchline," he revealed, with a smile and a few little darts of his head.

There have been a couple of boosts for Chelsea since the City game: the completion of the deal to sign Baba Rahman from Augsburg and the dramatic swoop for Pedro from under the noses of Manchester United. The sense of turmoil at the club had felt greater the previous week, when the controversy over Mourinho's demotion of two of his medics had raged.

He could even joke about hearing that certain bookmakers had cut his odds on being sacked. "I think you don't have big chances of making money on that," he said. The West Brom game was important but not do-or-die, he added.

There remains the impression of a club that is looking for a spark, and of a centre-forward who once again needs to make the headlines for his goals. Mourinho, though, has no doubts about Costa.

"The second season should be better than the first for him," Mourinho said. "I think he has conditions to have a better season. He is working better than before. He is not happy. He is one who, this week, clearly, has shown that he is not happy, but I am very happy with that. When I feel that the players are not happy, I am very happy with that."


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