Jose Mourinho appears to have won his battle of wills with Spain’s national team manager Vicente del Bosque over the fitness of Chelsea striker Diego Costa. The Rojas squad, announced last week for the European qualifier against Belarus and the prestigious friendly against World Champions Germany, noticeably excluded Brazilian-born Costa, and doubtless brought a smile to the Blues’ manager’s face. A long term hamstring problem, dating back to the tail end of last term’s La Liga season was hardly helped on the way to recovery by Spain’s albeit truncated participation in the World Cup. Add that to the physical rigours of the Premier League and Mourinho’s argument that a fortnight’s rest for the player, rather than playing a further two games, will be more beneficial for both club and country in bringing Costa to peak fitness, seems to gain a little credence. “I’m pleased about Diego [Costa], but I did nothing to make this happen,” Mourinho said at a press conference before the weekend. The decision however did not extend to Mourinho resting the striker against Liverpool, and when he netted the winner, it seemed that the Chelsea boss had won from every angle.
The striker was brought into Stamford Bridge in a summer deal worth some £32million, and although reportedly still carrying legacy injuries has already emphasised his importance to Chelsea’s table-topping squad by scoring ten goals. After last season’s trials and tribulations with a trio of misfiring strikers, it’s perhaps understandable that the ‘Special One’ is looking around for a pack of extra thick cotton wool to wrap around his star striker, especially where international duty is concerned.
Costa reported back from the last international break with both hamstring and pelvic problems, and then had to be hospitalised overnight with a virus. Mourinho did little to hide his anger at the situation, and as his squad then had to compete without Costa’s input for a couple of games, the manager was clearly determined to do what he could to prevent any repetition. Such protection however seems to wane somewhat when it comes to the needs of the club, rather than those of Costa’s adopted country. Struggling in Slovenia against Maribor, the protective layer was ripped away as Costa was thrown into the fray at half-time to try and achieve the victory that would have qualified the club. That the attempt failed is hardly relevant.
Equally, despite applauding del Bosque’s decision to omit Costa from the international squad, there was no reluctance on the Chelsea boss’s part to confirm that the player would start against Liverpool. In the same meeting, Mourinho was quick to deny that he had any input in persuading del Bosque to give Costa a rest. “I am pleased but I did nothing for that to happen,” said the Chelsea boss.
Although not specifically gainsaying the Mourinho’s stance, statements coming out of the Spain camp do put a slightly different slant on events. The national manager stated that, “We have reached the decision with doctors from Chelsea. He is taking a break because of discomfort in his pelvis.” I guess it is open for each to make their mind up as to what – if any – influence Mourinho brought to bear on the doctors’ advice.
If del Bosque thought that his gesture may be returned in kind by Chelsea, he would probably have been quickly disavowed of the assumption upon hearing Mourinho declare that he also played midfielder Cesc Fabregas when not fully fit. The ploy worked for Chelsea, but did not pan out so well for del Bosque. “Fabregas gambled and I gambled. He can join up with Spain but he will be back (as he is not fit).”
Now confirmed as out of the squad, it seems the club is letting it be known that Fabregas is also likely to miss the home league game against West Bromwich Albion when Premier League battle is joined again following the international break. One wonders however if the vastly experienced Spanish boss will not be the only one with a wry smile on his face if an unexpectedly quick recovery allows the former Arsenal player to make a dramatic reappearance at Stamford Bridge come the 22nd of November.
Of course clubs like Chelsea pay massive amounts of money to keep their star players committed to them, and having the third international break of the season, with less than a dozen league games played is hardly ideal in anybody’s calculations. International football will always intrude into the designs of top club managers, but striking a balance is always key. For Jose Mourinho however, it’s pretty clear where in his order of priorities, he ranks such Patriot Games.
(This All blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).