In this most unpredictable and illogical season, it was a 25-year-old bruiser from Brazil who broke up the Liga duopoly and brought Atletico Madrid their first domestic title since 1996. Cristiano Ronaldo may have been crowned the world’s best player in January, but by May, he wasn’t even the best in Spain.
When Radamel Falcao was sold to Monaco last summer, it was widely thought that David Villa would be the one to fire Los Colchoneros’ title challenge. As it was, perennial loanee Diego Costa had the campaign of his life and became an immortal hero at Vicente Calderon.
The signs were there from Week One. Diego Simeone’s men went to Sevilla dreaming of what the Coach called ‘an impossible title’. As it was, the capital outfit beat their Andalusian rivals 3-1, with Costa bagging what would be the first two of 27 League goals in 2013-14.
After playing second fiddle to Radamel Falcao the season before, it seemed as if the former Celta Vigo and Rayo Vallecano striker was on a mission to show Spain and the rest of Europe he could make a difference at the highest level. Branded as a bully and a hooligan by some, Costa showed a touch of finesse this term that had, previously, been unseen.
Sure, his physical abilities were all still intact – like he says, “if you kick me, I’ll kick you.” But the forward added a new dimension to his game this time around, as he showed in Week Eight against Celta. A cross from Juanfran found the Spain international inside the area, and without even thinking, Costa deftly swept home a delightful, curled finish first time.
The goals kept on coming – 19 before the Christmas break, including the winner in the Madrid derby in September, a Goal of the Season contender at home to Getafe and a pair of braces in vital wins at home to Valencia and Levante. “Diego Costa for us is like Lionel Messi for Barcelona or Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid,” Simeone told reporters at the time.
As the second half of the season rolled on, the Argentine tactician kept repeating his ‘game by game’ philosophy. Losses at Almeria and Osasuna were setbacks, but four goals in four games from Costa ensured the Rojiblancos got back on the horse – and were closing in on their Clasico rivals. Those wins against Espanyol, Real Betis, Granada and Athletic Bilbao would prove the catalyst, as fans quietly dreamed of pulling off the impossible.
Towards the final weeks of the campaign, a niggling hamstring injury would keep Costa out of games against Villarreal and Malaga, and force him off in the League decider at Camp Nou. As it was though, Atleti, against all the odds, did win a miraculous title – only the 10th in their history.
He may not be technically, the best player in La Liga. But in 2013-14, Diego Costa was easily the most decisive. And as is the way in Spain, he’ll soon be off to England.