Diego Costa is breakable. This didn’t seem possible a few months ago, when he was bull-rushing through back lines, but I suppose after spending an entire domestic and European season crashing into center backs, the turf and goalposts, you pick up a knock or two your body can’t quite shake off. Costa hasn’t been the same since he suffered a hamstring injury against Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal in early April. He has toughed out some matches since then, but he throws his body around so recklessly in pursuit of goals and the ball that he needs to be at full strength to truly impose his will. He gave the Liga-deciding match this past Saturday a go, but pulled up lame after just 15 minutes, lying on the grass and clutching his leg. There were a few camera shots after he limped off of him tearing up, with a towel over his head on the bench. I don’t think it was the pain so much as him knowing his season had likely come to an end.
On Saturday, Atlético Madrid play Real Madrid for the Champions League title, which is like a cage match against your dad to decide the fate of the universe. Diego Simeone will keep a place in the squad open for Costa because of the magnitude of the game, but the Argentine knows he’s probably going to have to make due with Adrián or Raúl García playing up top alongside David Villa. Costa’s injury is one of those two-week minimum deals, and Simeone has already said he doesn’t want to play anyone who’s not close to a 100 percent.
Naturally, needing to heal ahead of schedule in order to play in the biggest match of his career, Costa is turning to the magical healing powers of horse placenta. This isn’t as weird as it sounds, though it couldn’t possibly be. There’s a Serbian doctor named Marijana Kovacevic who believes the proteins found in horse placenta — which I’m pretty sure beats out “cellar door” for the most aurally pleasing phrase in the English language — helps muscle tissue regenerate faster than it otherwise would. She uses a sort of placenta gel, which she massages into the injured area of the body. Then, um, the science sort of breaks down here, but I guess the ghost-spirit of Secretariat has some restorative effect traditional salves lack. The procedure isn’t endorsed by any kind of major medical regulatory body, but rubbing some horse womb goop on your thigh also doesn’t hurt anything. Koracevic has treated a number of soccer players over the years, including Robin van Persie, Frank Lampard and Asamoah Gyan. They have all claimed to have felt better after receiving the therapy, so maybe there’s something to it, even if it’s just a placebo effect.
It’s not news that players will look for whatever edge they can, even if it’s some alternative medicine crock that probably doesn’t work. (Remember the great deer antler spray epidemic of 2013?) What’s special about Costa seeking strange treatment is that he’s probably not going to be an Atleti player next season. If you believe the papers — I do in this case — he’s already set to leave for Chelsea for a fee of about $54 million once the transfer window opens. He’s also likely to play for Spain in the World Cup, which is only a few weeks away. Even though Chelsea lost to Atleti in the Champions League, they’re a much bigger club, capable of paying Costa something like double his current salary and in possessions of the sort of resources to compete for trophies every year. (This rojiblancos run is a beautiful aberration, but an aberration nonetheless.) In a lot of ways, this final, whether he participates in it or not, marks the beginning of Costa’s big-time career.
The prudent move would be for Costa to listen to his body and sit this match out. He doesn’t owe Atlético anything more than he has given them this season. Without him, the club wouldn’t have won La Liga or be in the position to play against Real in Lisbon. He has a lot to look forward to over the next few months, and he could imperil his bright future by playing on Saturday.
Costa claims he doesn’t take his work home with him, but not all of his recklessness leaves him once he’s off the pitch. It’s why he’s in eastern Europe right now, getting a massage one imagines stinks like a flood-damaged farm. If by some equine-aided miracle he can run by the time Atleti arrives at the Estádio da Luz, he will play, and if he plays he will not look after himself. He’ll clatter into Sergio Ramos several times over, and Ramos will press his studs into Costa’s achilles. He will curse and shove and whine and throw himself at the ball. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he pulled up lame at some point, unable to walk because he’s unable to not sprint. This is why Spain and Chelsea want Costa in the first place, and it’s why Atleti are lucky to have him, even if just for one more game.