We Were All Cheated By Diego Costa
Unless you’re a Chelsea fan of the most cynical variety, Chelsea striker Diego Costa ruined yet another game of football this weekend. This is a big problem for the Premier League. The victims included millions of viewers around the world, as well as Chelsea’s opponent, Arsenal.
Towards the end of the first half, away from the ball, and presumably the attentions of the ref, Diego Costa hit Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in the face twice and then shoved him to the ground. Arsenal’s other center back, Gabriel Paulista, stepped in-between, pushing Diego Costa away. Diego Costa then grabbed Gabriel by the neck. After Gabriel and Diego Costa had been separated, Diego Costa approached Gabriel and slapped him in the back, hard–make no mistake, this was not a let’s get on with the game pat on the back. This was intended to antagonize Gabriel and it worked. Gabriel responded by slapping Diego Costa on the chest, equally hard. Somehow, referee Mike Dean ended the whole tussle by doling out yellow cards to Gabriel and Diego Costa.
The two kept jawing at each other. At the halfway line, away from the ball, Gabriel backed into Diego Costa, leg raised, and made contact with the Chelsea attacker’s shin. The contact was slight, but Diego Costa turned straight to Dean, unharmed, pleading for a second yellow. Dean was swarmed by what looked like the entire Chelsea team and, after consulting with his lineman, obliged. Somehow a straight red. Gabriel off, Chelsea with a man advantage. Job well done to Diego Costa. Man of the match for sure. The con executed to perfection. This is not a one-off. Diego Costa routinely kicks and hits off the ball, instigates controversy, and then walks away without consequence. He’s the dirtiest player in the Premier League, and he’s really, really good at what he does.
To the Arsenal fan, the neutral, and even the honest Chelsea supporter, this didn’t sit well. We were all cheated by Diego Costa. Chelsea took advantage of their unfairly won numerical advantage, scoring midway through the second half. They scored again in injury time, after Arsenal had been reduced to nine men. Chelsea may very well have won the game without the numerical advantage. They had outplayed and out-created Arsenal in the first half. It was probably the best Chelsea played all season. But the incident ruined the game. The result felt undeserved and, more importantly, lacked integrity.
If the Premier League was purely a competition, that might be ok (it’s not cheating if you get away with it). But it’s not. Professional sports is big business entertainment. Fans will lose interest if they feel that results lack integrity and wins are undeserved. If every game were marred by a Diego Costa incident, an unjust sending off, I would stop watching. I don’t want to see a team win by taking advantage of an unfairly won numerical advantage. I had been looking forward to the clash between Arsenal and Chelsea all week, and felt cheated. I was genuinely annoyed for most of the day and couldn’t bring myself to watch the remaining Saturday fixtures. And I wasn’t alone. That is a terrible outcome for the Premier league.
Since Diego Costa takes a win at all costs approach to the game, it’s up to the Premier League to impose severe costs when a Diego Costa crosses the line. Retroactive action must be taken. (As an aside, I’m not sure why having a fourth official in a replay booth reviewing such incidents in real time is controversial. Would it really be a problem if the ref gets a signal from the replay booth that a player should be given a red for intentionally hitting a player off the ball, and at the next whistle, gives that player the red?) The league has the evidence and the means to retroactively sanction players like Diego Costa to eliminate cancerous behavior. And It should do so. The punishments can and should be harsh. Suspensions for cheating should be long; fines should be costly. If cheaters are truly sanctioned and punished for cheating, they’ll stop cheating. Banning Diego Costa for six games and imposing a fine of six weeks wages would be a fair outcome. Not only would such a punishment act as a true deterrent, such a punishment would restore some modicum of integrity to the outcome.