Diego Costa: The Art of War
By Fran Guillén
Arena Sport/BackPage Press, 2015
In my experience, football biographies can be even more disappointing than the autobiographies. After all, there is a higher level of expectation; these are books authored by chosen experts, rather than reluctant writers. At one end of the quality spectrum you have the unofficial biographies scrabbled together for the man of the moment; at the other, you have the insightful, often academic work of David Winner, Jonathan Wilson and Philippe Auclair. So where does Fran Guillén’s Diego Costa: The Art of War sit on this scale?
The answer, I believe, is slap bang in the middle, even though it has one of the best football book covers of all time. Over 200 pages, Guillén does a very good job of masking the fact that his book contains no original interviews with Chelsea’s star striker. Existing Costa quotes are scattered throughout but the focus is much more on the words of the people around him. Thanks to his strong Spanish media connections, Guillén brings together an impressive array of ex-teammates, opponents and coaches. The star is Jesús García Pitarch, the former Atlético Madrid Director of Football who bought Costa from Braga in Portugal.
With Pitarch’s voice leading the narration, the book offers a strong analysis of the early years, particularly for English football fans who missed Costa’s coming of age. Pranks, parties, tantrums, scraps – these are the common threads during loan spells at Celta Vigo, Albacete, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano. As Pitarch neatly summarises, Costa ‘had never been in an organised team and had no experience of the dressing room, of being part of a team. He lacked any sense of discipline, of belonging to a club. He was already 15 or 16 before his football took off.’
This unfettered background, once tamed somewhat by maturity, is key to creating the beast that Chelsea fans now know and love. Costa remains the man-child, the ‘clown prince’, but he has honed his greatest skills – the positioning, the shooting, the mind games. José Antonio Martín Otín wins the award for the book’s best quote: ‘He’s like your typical Sunday-morning footballer who turns up with three aims: he wants a game, he wants to score and he wants a bit of a fight.’
Typically, however, insight seems to run thin just as fame appears on the horizon. With the exception of the chapter on Costa’s decision to play for Spain and the 2014 World Cup, the second half of the book lapses into match-by-match reporting. Title-winning seasons at Atlético and Chelsea come and go without anyone delving below the surface. The book’s title becomes increasingly problematic with each irrelevant Sun Tzu extract. Where is the tactical detail, the information on the ‘art’ of the striker’s war? Paulo Assunçao reveals that Ronaldo is Costa’s idol, but sadly this is a passing remark rather than a probing inroad.
Ultimately, Diego Costa: The Art of War is an up-to-date and entertaining look at one of modern football’s greatest characters. New season, old hamstring injury but Costa remains integral to Jose Mourinho’s plans. And perhaps there is no greater depth to reveal about the Chelsea striker. With a game built around raw aggression and power, simplicity often seems his greatest asset.
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