Wayne Rooney has admitted he is a big fan of controversial Chelsea and Spain striker Diego Costa – and admits he voted for him as Player of the Year last season.
Costa has earned a reputation as something of a wind-up merchant due to his attempts to get under defenders’ skin – and was even labelled a ‘Master of the Dark Arts’ in our article on him.
Arsenal defender Gabriel was sent off earlier this season for clashing with the 27-year-old and he tried to provoke Ryan Shawcross during Chelsea’s defeat to Stoke last weekend by grabbing the centre-back’s jaw before telling him rather impolitely that he had bad body odour.
Rooney admits there is something to admire about the Brazil-born forward’s antics, however.
Ahead of England’s game against Spain in Alicante which we preview here, Rooney revealed he thought Costa was the best player in the Premier League last season.
“I actually voted for him as player of the year last season because I think he was a huge player for Chelsea,” the England captain said of Costa, who scored 20 goals in his maiden season for the Blues.
“I think what Chelsea missed the season before was that fight up front and he gave them that and I strongly believe that’s why they became champions.
“Obviously it hasn’t gone as well as it did last season for him but I think he is a fantastic player.
“He’s a fighter and I think that’s part of his game and it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to ask him not to do that.
“I feel that’s in him – that fight. He thrives on that and that gets his team-mates going as well.”
Roy Hodgson is also a fan of Costa, but he hopes Friday’s officials will punish the striker if he steps out of line in Alicante.
The England manager feels no need to speak to his players about keeping their cool in the face of Costa’s aggression, however.
“We give the players information about the opponents and their strengths, but we don’t go into that sort of detail where we say: ‘Be careful here’ because that would be teaching my grandmother how to suck eggs. Furthermore I’d be vilifying a player I have no reason to vilify,” Hodgson said.
“Costa for me is a good player, especially last year, he was very, very important to Chelsea.
“He is a very combative player but we have combative centre-halves and they will just have to deal with that situation.
“I wouldn’t dream of suggesting he’s going to try underhand methods. Let’s hope he doesn’t and if he does we’re just going to have to deal with it and hope the referee deals with it like they do every week in the Premier League.”