The Meaning of…Diego Costa


Diego Costa seems a good bet to join fellow SotB profilees Edin Džeko and Olivier Giroud in the Premier League’s elite band of big strikers at big clubs. He has just played a prominent role as hipster fetish object and occasional football club Atlético Madrid claimed their first La Liga title since the halcyon days of Jesús Gil, a chairman who, for all his political shortcomings, remains the only one in world football to have had a song written about him by grouch-rock pacesetters Prolapse:

Sorry. That took absolutely no time at all to stop being a post about Diego Costa and start being a post about Jesús Gil and Prolapse. What I meant to say is that Costa looks set to become a familiar face in English football: José Mourinho seems determined to sign the Atléti target man, having apparently decided, for reasons I can’t fathom, but then I’m not a football manager, that Romelu Lukaku isn’t up to the task. As a result, the Brazil-born Spanish international will be one of the players who the English commentators will demand we ‘keep an eye on’ during the World Cup, and he will be one of those which the tournament’s not-quite-official spiel insists spectators must have an opinion about.

In any given international football competition, particular players are set up as receptacles for narrative that is still to come into being. Certain lines along which this narrative may develop are cultivated: while all players have a modicum of what one might call ‘legend’ for stumped commentators to fall back on, a select few are positioned as reservoirs of memory-to-come. They are not necessarily the anticipated stars of the tournament – it’s far more convenient in a para-literary sense if a star of the tournament is, in the manner of Schillachi or Platt in 1990, perceived as essentially ex nihilo – but those who will provide some image or event which will capture the grain of the competition.

Costa works in this sense on multiple levels. Firstly, there is the issue of his nationality. This is set to be the most – to alleviate a term slightly, but only slightly – deterritorialised World Cup of all time in that there will be more players representing nations other than the ones in which they were born than ever before. Nationality and naturalisation issues surrounding the likes of Adnan Januzaj have been one of the dominant footballing stories in the last few months, a factor which is indicative simultaneously of increased fluidity of movement and accelerated globalisation. The story is no longer that a player has been naturalised – as was the case with Italy’s Argentinians in the 1930s – but that they are representative of a general trend towards both naturalisation and other forms of extended eligibility. Costa’s prominence as the likely leader of Spain’s attack will give him the status of an avatar. To accentuate this, he will be playing in the country of his birth.

A second possible narrative path will centre on his playing style. Costa has already been pre-figured as something more than a ‘handful’, and carries with him a reputation for both aggressive and passive-aggressive unpleasantness. The moment of the 2010 tournament was arguably Luis Suarez’s handball, and the media myth-makers will be prepared, and eager, for something similar to happen this time around. A strangely wonderful video of Costa’s ongoing war with Sergio Ramos primes us for him to provide on this front (Costa’s spit-in-the-hand-and-throw-it-at-the-opponent move displays a Suarez-like level of baneful invention).

The point here is not that he will necessarily fulfil either of these roles, but that he embodies narrative potential in a purely formal sense. In the mass-media age, as Alfie pointed out with reference to Alain Badiou yesterday, tournaments are not simply driven but exist on the basis of this contentless possibility. Players have been commodities as long as the sport has been professional, but their commodification does not depend solely on their ability to play football or even their ability to, pace David Beckham or Dong Fangzhuo, ‘sell shirts’. That’s to say that they are not solely commodities for their parent clubs but, in a more general and abstract way, for a media which seeks to preconceive their competitive role. The player-about-whom-an-opinion-must-be-had is not simply a vector for sociable chat, but a ‘real life story’ masking or normalising the transformation of life into pure narrative possibility.

Posted by Joe Kennedy

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One thought on “The Meaning of…Diego Costa

  1. […] wider discussions about the instrumentality of life in football, something which is, as I noted in my piece on Diego Costa, typically overlooked as we go on blithely conceiving of players as being ‘for’ […]

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