Diego Costa will be remembered as a Chelsea folk hero despite ugly breakup
If there is one word in the English language that could sum up Diego Costa, it's "disruptive". Disruptive to opposition defences, disruptive to teammates if there's a practical joke to be executed, disruptive to the cheekbones of defenders brave or stupid enough to get too close to him. And, of course, disruptive to managers and referees who try to make him toe the line.
It was apt, then, for Costa's exit from Chelsea to be marked by another aspect of the same disruptive behaviour. His childlike, make-believe anger at a text from manager Antonio Conte telling him what he already knew -- that he was not in the manager's plans and could leave the club -- sparked a summerlong saga during which he refused to return to work, claiming he was being treated like a criminal.
It was all rather absurd, but in the end everyone got what they wanted. Chelsea are due to receive £58 million for a player with whom they were keen to part ways. Atletico Madrid will acquire a world-class striker who knows the club and will have no trouble settling in. Costa will be returning to the club that he never really wanted to leave in the first place. The only people who might be less enthused, if not at all surprised given the farcical last few months, are Chelsea supporters.
Costa is and will always remain a folk hero at Chelsea. The manner of his departure will not change that one bit in the eyes of those that revelled in his snarling, bellicose attitude on the pitch. A leader in both application and deed, he was the first point of attack and the first line of defence. Admittedly, his second season saw him return to the club overweight after the summer break and his effort left a lot to be desired in those first few months until Jose Mourinho was sacked. Either side of that period though, Costa was a colossus for Chelsea, scoring 59 goals in 120 games and spearheading the charge to two Premier League titles in three seasons.
One of the constants of his time at Stamford Bridge was that he was universally hated by supporters of all other English clubs. And yet, deep down every single one of them would admit that they would have loved to have Costa on their team. His deliberate engineering of on-field confrontations might not have been to everyone's liking but it only exemplified his unbridled will to win. It consumed him and there are plenty of clubs -- especially one that plays in red in North London -- that would have given anything to have some of that attitude imbued into their players.
Those type of players have always existed, from Roy Keane at Manchester United to Luis Suarez at Liverpool. The type that push the boundaries so far that it is not clear whether they are aware that there is a boundary at all. Dennis Wise -- Chelsea's most successful captain prior to John Terry -- was once the chief protagonist in that role, Costa was just the latest to assume that mantle in West London.
Some have argued Costa's antics in relation to seeking alternative employment have made him seen like a mercenary, willing to work for anyone for the right price. The absence of any intrinsic loyalty might be disappointing but in that regard he is no different to any other footballer. The difference with him is that once he is enlisted he will lay everything on the line for the cause even if it's to his own physical or reputational detriment. Not every other footballer can say the same.
In one way it is a shame that he will not be lining up for Atletico Madrid when Chelsea visit the Spanish capital next week. It would have been intriguing to see how Costa reacted to that situation, whether he would be cauldron of emotion continually bubbling out of control or whether he would simply focus on delivering an exhibition on muscular centre-forward play. Considering his propensity to do the latter when it really matters, perhaps it's a good thing that he is not yet eligible to line up for his new employers.
But the way that football writes its own scripts means that Costa is bound to face the Blues once more before his career is done. Chelsea fans are particularly good when it comes to remembering their own and it is rare that an old boy doesn't get a clap from the locals when they return to Stamford Bridge. Jack Cork spent 13 years on the club's books without ever playing a first-team game for the Blues yet still got a decent reception when he pitched up with Burnley on the opening day of the season. If Costa ever does return to his old stamping ground he can be sure of a far more rousing chorus.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.