The rumor linking Diego Costa to a return to Atlético Madrid was one of the biggest stories of 2016. Rumored even as far back as the end of Diego's first season at Chelsea (just like in the case of former teammate Filipe Luis), the story really picked up steam as the magnitude of Chelsea's troubles became clear in the second half of 2015.
Atlético president Cerezo (who was later warned by Chelsea to stop talking about our players) was already talking about a return in rather certain terms back in February, and things only escalated from there. By the summer, it was almost a foregone conclusion, with Chelsea getting linked to big-money moves for the likes of Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku as potential replacements. And yet, Atléti ended up having to settle for their second option in Kevin Gameiro, with manager Diego Simeone confirming in mid-August that their pursuit of Diego Costa had failed.
Not even Costa himself probably expected this season to go as well as it has despite agreeing to stay. Now, in an interview with Ian Baker of Wardles news agency, Costa talks a bit about what happened in the summer, why he wanted to leave and, most importantly, why he decided to stay.
The answers may not be entirely candid, but they're revealing nonetheless.
"Could I have gone in the summer? Yes, yes. I was about to leave. I was about to but, well, I'm happy here as well and that's that."
"Did I want to go? Yes, yes. I had the possibility to go to Atletico, because of a few things, the family, the life I have there but not because of Chelsea, because, here, there's a lot of love with the supporters, with the people, so I'm here very happy, I'm very content."
It was him, not us. (Or the media, as many stories wanted us to believe). But then there was also Antonio Conte.
"People love me a lot. There was one thing I wanted to change for family reasons but, well, it wasn't to be and I continue to be happy here. It was important too that the manager, from the very first minute, said he counted on me."
"The truth is the manager is good with the players, every time making more jokes with the players, and that's good for us, to have a manager who is not just a boss but like a person we can talk with, someone whose support we can count on in difficult moments. He is calm with the players and you can see the people love him more all the time."
We all want a boss like Antonio Conte, don't we?
Other than the goals, the one aspect of Costa's game that has stood out this season is his changed attitude. It's not that he's less determined to do well, but he seems to have cut out a lot of the off-the-ball provocations, which we were often told were crucial to his game. Turns out that he can be just as effective without constantly looking to pick a fight. While he did pick up five yellow cards in the first half of the season, a couple of those were incredibly harsh ones for "dissent" (handed out at the start of the season, when referees were still trying to make an example of this new rule) and then he famously went 11 games without a card, even.
"I know what I have to do. I know when I do bad, so I thought about it and knew I had to improve that aspect because, here in the Premier League, the reality is there's no mercy [authority], a lot of the time it seemed like they [referees] were against me. There was no other way, because if they're not going to change, I had to change."
-Diego Costa; source: Telegraph
All that said, Diego Costa going back to Atlético at some point would surprise probably no one. He will have two years left on his Chelsea contract after this season, and while rumors claim he's open to signing a new extension, we won't know how accurate those stories are until a few months from now. Meanwhile, Atlético are still hopeful that their transfer ban will be reduced to one window just like Real Madrid's was, so that they could sign players in the summer once again.
Regardless of what may happen in the future, Diego Costa has a chance to write himself into the Chelsea history books, with one of the best goals-to-games ratios in Chelsea's history and at least one, but hopefully at least two Premier League titles.