By Richard Jolly
Jose Mourinho is gaining a goalscorer and losing an excuse. He used to have a ready-made explanation whenever Chelsea failed to win: he didn’t have a striker. Not any longer.
No matter that Chelsea had the triple Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o or the £50 million man Fernando Torres. Or even, on the rare occasions he started, the less gifted but sporadically potent Demba Ba. They were striker-less, while the centurions of Liverpool and Manchester City had the firepower to reach 100 league goals apiece.
Now the framework is changing. Chelsea have agreed to sign Diego Costa. The spearhead of their attack will be the man who, in his own rough and ready way, went toe-to-toe with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the goalscoring stakes in Spain and propelled Atletico Madrid, the least talented of the top three teams, to the Primera Division title.
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There is no doubt the greatest striker of Mourinho’s Chelsea years was, rather than the declining Eto’o, Torres or Andriy Shevchenko, the forceful Didier Drogba. Costa does not possess quite as intimidating a frame but there is a similarly direct element to his game, another aggressive streak. Mourinho likes a striker who can wage war on a defence. Costa’s disciplinary record proves he is capable of doing just that.
The incongruous element about Chelsea 2.0, the successors to the team Mourinho built in 2004, was that they possessed the supply line but not the scorer. Roman Abramovich's fondness for flair players was expressed in the transfer market and creative talents arrived in abundance, from Eden Hazard and Oscar in 2012 through Willian and Andre Schurrle in 2013 and, most recently, Cesc Fabregas, without anyone to convert the many chances they fashion. Costa should be that player.
His 36-goal tally last season was remarkable. The concern for Chelsea might be that it is an outlier, never to be repeated: until a 20-goal campaign in 2012-13, he had never topped 10. Yet it is eerily reminiscent of Drogba, another who wasn’t prolific in his early twenties but who attracted Mourinho’s attention in a year when he struck 32 times.
He was 26 when he joined Chelsea. Costa will be 26 in October. Mourinho is paying for the finisher and the finished article alike. Certainly he should not be worried by Costa’s anti-climactic World Cup. The Brazilian-born attacker was never fully fit and rarely on the same wavelength as his team-mates. Chelsea, who look to get the ball forward rather quicker, don’t debate whether to play tiki-taka.
They prioritise effectiveness and their inability to score against West Ham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Norwich in the second half of the season came at a cost. A Premier League crown that appeared theirs to lose then seemed destined for Anfield before eventually ending up at the Etihad Stadium. Mourinho could argue his defeatism was justified every time his supposed scorers drew a blank.
When the more ruthless Costa puts pen to paper, Mourinho will have the most capable squad in England. He already has the outstanding defence. Fabregas has arrived to bolster the midfield and Costa is the striker he has been pursuing for months. Unlike the stopgap signing of Eto’o, this is his first choice.
Mourinho has got the man he wanted. Now he ought to get his title back.