Jose Mourinho must have shuddered with fear when news came through that Manchester United had completed a deal to sign Radamel Falcao in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The Chelsea boss witnessed at first-hand how clinical the Colombia international is during his time managing Real Madrid - and how the striker overshadowed Diego Costa during their time together at Atletico.
Falcao only spent two seasons with Atletico Madrid, but during that time he scored a magnificent 70 goals in 91 matches. In the process, he established his reputation as the best number nine on the planet.
Costa, meanwhile, was firmly regarded as the club’s back-up striker and little more. Around 2012, Atleti boss Diego Simeone even considered the possibility of offloading the Brazilian forward due to a combination of poor form and bad behaviour.
Falcao finished the 2012-13 campaign having scored 34 goals in 41 matches; but Costa - despite only scoring 10 goals in La Liga that term - managed to take his tally to 20 goals in all competitions, convincing Simeone to give him a chance after the former was sold to AS Monaco for a club-record fee.
Simeone's Diego Costa gamble
It was a massive gamble in retrospect from Simeone, but as they say: fortune favours the brave. And Costa repaid his coach by scoring an incredible 36 goals in 52 matches, helping Atletico win their first La Liga title since 1996.
Costa, though, could - and should - have finished the season with an even higher tally of goals. He missed more than his fair share of gilt-edged chances over the course of the campaign, and was beaten to second place in the race for the Pichichi by Lionel Messi, who missed almost three months of the season through injury.
Costa was part of an incredible Atletico team
To presume that Costa was the player largely responsible for Atletico Madrid’s La Liga triumph and Champions League heroics would be misguided. Of course he played a key role - his goals were invaluable - but Gabi, Diego Godin, Miranda, Koke, Arda Turan, David Villa and, in particular, Thibaut Courtois were all just as important.
The Atletico Madrid side of 2013-14 will probably go down as the best team in the club’s history because they were exactly that: a proper team. Costa was but a cog in an extremely well-oiled footballing machine.
Had Falcao stayed, it’s likely that the outcome for Atletico Madrid would have been exactly the same. He and Costa are, of course, very different types of strikers - but Falcao is undoubtedly the better all-round product, hence why United are reportedly paying £350,000-a-week to keep him at Old Trafford for the remainder of the 2014-15 campaign.
Falcao was even better than Costa for Atleti
Falcao was arguably even more instrumental in Atletico’s Copa del Rey and Europa League triumphs than Costa was in last season’s remarkable La Liga victory. It shouldn’t be underestimated just how good Falcao was in his two years at the Vicente Calderon.
And now Manchester United have him - at least until the end of the current campaign - as their new number nine.
Surely if there was the slightest chance of signing Falcao as Chelsea’s first-choice striker then Mourinho would have brought him to Stamford Bridge.
After all, Falcao scored against Mourinho’s Real Madrid in both seasons he played in La Liga, while his assist for Costa in the 2013 Copa del Rey final - which can be viewed HERE - proved this was a striker with the ability to link-up with his teammates, despite accusations to the contrary.
Mourinho was intent on signing Costa
But Mourinho had made up his mind before the summer transfer window opened that Costa was his number one target. A deal was effectively in place with the striker long before the £32 million transfer was eventually confirmed after the World Cup finals.
On the subject of the World Cup in Brazil, Costa was nothing short of dreadful for his adopted national team, Spain, who were unceremoniously dumped out to the showpiece international tournament in the group stages.
That’s not to suggest that Costa is a poor striker - he’s patently a very talented forward - but with Falcao you’re guaranteed goals in any team and any system.
Mourinho’s decision to sign Costa currently looks like a wonderful bit of business. The 25-year-old has started very promisingly indeed, scoring four goals in his opening three matches.
But can he really replicate last season’s goalscoring heroics for his news club over the course of the entire campaign? How will he perform against the big boys? Chelsea have, after all, only played Burnley, Leicester City and Everton so far this season.
Costa will let Chelsea down at some point
His temperament is also a concern. Everton boss Roberto Martinez had clearly instructed his players to wind up Costa in a bid to provoke a reaction last Saturday - and the fiery striker was rather fortunate to end the match with a yellow card to his name rather than a red.
Costa also picked up a previous yellow card on his Premier League debut against Burnley for diving, which came as no surprise to those who have watched him regularly in La Liga over the past few years.
Falcao will outscore and outshine Costa
With Costa, there’s always another misdemeanour waiting just around the corner. Like Luis Suarez, he will end up letting his current employers down at some point.
There’s no such risk with Falcao who, by all accounts, is a manager’s dream. He lives to score goals - and Manchester United will benefit hugely from his presence this season.
Costa may have had a head start, but don’t bet against Falcao outscoring the Chelsea striker come the end of the season.
One thing’s for sure: he’ll certainly end up outshining him. And Mourinho, deep down, knows this.
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