Tite, sat in the press conference at the CBF headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, had just announced the 23 names that would form his Brazil squad for October’s international friendlies and was ready to field questions from the assembled media.
“Why no Douglas Costa?”, one journalist inquired about the absent Juventus player.
“I didn’t bring Douglas Costa for two reasons:”, replied the Brazil manager, “his injury and the act of indiscipline. The priority now is those that were called up. I will talk to [Costa] at a later date.”
It was the first time anyone had heard such a thing from Tite. He has had to explain omissions before, of course, but he had never left anybody out for behavioural reasons.
But then again, none of his players had lost their head in quite the way Costa did in Juve’s game against Sassuolo the previous weekend. After coming on with half an hour left, the skillful winger had managed to headbutt and elbow Federico Di Francesco before finally getting himself sent off for spitting in his opponent’s face in injury time.
Afterwards, there were suggestions that Di Francesco may have said something of a racist nature, though he vehemently denied the accusations. Costa, meanwhile, was handed a four-game ban from domestic football and issued an apology “to all Juventus fans” and “my team-mates”, interestingly choosing to ignore the man upon whom he had unleashed a gob-full of saliva.
Three days later, the Brazil international was back on the pitch in Champions League action against Valencia, a game in which his side fell to a disappointing 2-0 away defeat. To top off a horrible week, he picked up a sprained ankle and pulled thigh towards the end and had to be carried from the field.
Now, though, he is back, and his mission is redemption. Costa needs to win back the Juventus fans, his team-mates and most of all his two managers, Max Allegri at club level and Tite for Brazil, starting with Juve’s confrontation with Manchester United on Tuesday night.
Perhaps more than redemption, even, Costa should be looking to confirm himself as one of the world’s elite players.
Since making his debut for Grêmio a decade ago as a fresh-faced teenager, Costa has at times threatened to become the best out-and-out wide man on the planet, without ever putting together a spell of consistent performances long enough to cement that status.
Moments of brilliance at Shakhtar were enough to convince Pep Guardiola to take Costa to Bayern Munich in 2015, and whilst working with the ex-Barcelona boss, with his stringent requirements that wingers stay as high and wide on the pitch as possible, the Brazilian excelled.
Before the 2016 Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, the Catalan went as far as saying that Costa “was a great signing. We’ve only got this far because of him.”
Hoping to push on the next season, however, he found it far more difficult to convince new coach Carlo Ancelotti and lost his spot in the side.
As a result, he was forced to move to Juventus, where after a slow start, he really came into his own as the Old Lady of Turin destroyed Napoli’s dream to win their seventh successive Scudetto.
This term, however, he has again struggled to build on previous success. Allegri has not always been sure how best to accommodate both the Brazilian and fellow lusophone Cristiano Ronaldo in the same side.
His career with the Selecao has followed much the same trajectory, with Costa never really staying in form for long enough to make himself a nailed-on starter. That 17 of his 29 caps have come from the bench tells its own story.
There have also been the repeated muscle injuries, like the recent thigh problem sustained in the Valencia game, that have impeded him at important moments.
Another issue in the same muscle interrupted his preparations for the World Cup, and just when it seemed he had made the breakthrough with a breath-taking second-half showing against Costa Rica, the injury returned. He was forced to sit out the games with Serbia and Mexico, before playing just half an hour as his team were toppled by Belgium.
Back to the present, and the flying forward has returned from both the domestic suspension and the thigh injury. On Saturday, he came on for the last 30 minutes of the Bianconeri’s 1-1 draw with Genoa, looking to get a bit of match practice before this week’s big one at Old Trafford.
Going into that game, all eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the club where he won his first European title. That, though, could provide the perfect cover for Costa to make an impact.
Given that he has just made his comeback from injury, he may not start, but his pace, trickery and unparalleled crossing ability can be devastating late in games against tiring defences. Whoever Mourinho chooses at full-back, the Brazilian will fancy his chances of giving them a tough time.
A performance in a big European game would be just what he needs to get back on track and kick-start his season. From there, he could build on the promising form shown in the early months of this year and work his way back into Tite’s first-team plans before the Copa America next June.
Costa has previously expressed a desire to be the best player in the world and while, at 28, his time may have come and gone in terms of achieving that goal, he still has it in him to move up into the second tier of international footballers, alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero, Philippe Coutinho, Mo Salah and Harry Kane.