EPL: No way, Jose

Brazil-born Diego Costa had his former countrymen dancing in the streets.

They championed his cause during the World Cup. They partied after his performances in the group stages.

He was terrible. The country he turned his back on revelled in his disappointment. There were tears of delight for a dithering clown.

Costa carried the hopes of his adopted nation Spain, and he buckled beneath the burden. Chelsea must count on him not to repeat the unpopular trick.

He is the best of Jose Mourinho's ramshackle bunch. If Costa's good, then Didier Drogba is the old and Fernando Torres can be downright ugly.

The Chelsea manager believes he has three strikers with the collective qualities to sustain a Premier League title challenge. Mourinho speaks of aces. He might end up with jokers.

Costa comes not with a halo, but a cloud of question marks, after emerging from the World Cup wilderness.

Samuel Eto's' struggles with the EPL's combustible penalty boxes proved that England was no country for old men like Drogba and, unless Torres' pre-season gym equipment includes a DeLorean to take him back to 2006, the Spaniard isn't likely to resuscitate his flat-lining fortunes.

Mourinho's early transfer activity leaves Chelsea within the homegrown player quota, but without a strikeforce to topple Manchester City, or perhaps even Arsenal and Liverpool.

For selling David Luiz to Paris Saint- Germain for supposedly 50 million pounds (S$105 million), Mourinho deserves to win Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice.

For offloading Romelu Lukaku to Everton for £28m, the Portuguese coach encourages only incredulity.

Mourinho had the makings of the next Drogba in his dressing room. Lukaku is still only 21, but the burly boy from Belgium became a man in extra time against the United States in the World Cup Round of 16.

Abject against Russia, he was left bruised and battered on the bench, but not broken. Marc Wilmots unleashed the brooding beast and Belgium finally saw the best of Lukaku. And Drogba saw himself a decade ago.

But Mourinho gifted the brilliantly brutish No. 9 to Everton, mumbling a mealy-mouthed justification about needing to balance the books for Uefa's Financial Fair Play and rearrange the passport colours in the dressing room.

If that was the overriding concern, then European clubs peering across the English Channel through rose-tinted glasses still saw a Torres of yesteryear, and were willing to take a punt on the sputtering Spaniard.

But Mourinho retained the weary thoroughbred and sold an occasionally wayward, but always explosive colt to a rival stable.

Instead, he trotted through the gates of the Cobham Training Ground on the back of a cherished, much-loved old favourite, destined for the knacker's yard.

In a sense, Drogba has already been put out to stud.

At 36, he will be primarily tasked with nurturing young foals and, possibly, coming on in the last 15 minutes to bring some wily experience to proceedings, which sounds suspiciously like a tactic from the coaching-cliche manual.

It's not a textbook that Mourinho has typically borrowed from in the past.

Quite understandably, the Chelsea manager has long appeared obsessed with his former Ivorian lieutenant. Drogba defines not only a Mourinho striker, but also an unswerving, unbreakable cog within the manager's intractable template.


Mourinho could - and did - fashion his sides in the image of his beloved centre forward; uncompromising, industrious, tireless and decisive.

When Drogba's unstoppable force combined with Mourinho's immovable object, they made an unbeatable pair. The Ivorian scored 157 goals at Chelsea and won the Champions League with his last kick for the club in 2012.

The Portuguese tried to replicate their relationship with different clubs and players ever since, with varying success. Now he's found his new Drogba, by bringing back the old one.

But he may struggle to retrofit a classic Rolls Royce to take on younger speedsters. So that just leaves Costa.

At Atletico Madrid, there was more than a passing similarity to Drogba. A burly, busy presence, Costa muscled the Spaniards to the La Liga title and a Champions League final. But, when he led his country, he laboured. His statistics were horrific.

In Spain's first two group games, he managed not a single shot on target - only five in total - and touched the ball 10 times in the box.

He was put out of his misery in the final group game against Australia by being dropped.

Even now, when Brazilians fancy a moment's respite from their World Cup misery, they think about Costa. And they laugh.

Costa is comic relief in Brazil. He is Chelsea's only realistic hope in the penalty box.

And if he doesn't deliver at Stamford Bridge this season, his Portuguese manager will become the punchline.

This article was first published on August 2, 2014.
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