Having seen England record a narrow victory over Denmark the other night, I decided to turn over the channel to watch the second half of Spain versus Italy. Of all the world class talent on show, I was not expecting to see Diego Costa leading the line for the World and double European champions. Not because he’s not in the same class as his teammates, as he is a top striker currently doing the business for Atletico Madrid, but because I’d seen him represent Brazil before.
The explanation for this is that Diego Costa, due to having spent most of his career in the Spanish leagues, has now been granted Spanish citizenship having lived in the country during that time (since joining Atletico Madrid in 2007). In addition to this, the two caps he has won for Brazil have both come in friendly (non-competitive) matches. This was inevitable as due to Brazil hosting this year’s World Cup, they haven’t been involved in any competitive qualifying matches. As a result, Diego Costa hadn’t become fully committed to a national side (by Fifa’s crazy ruling) and Spain were able to pounce.
Spain’s manager Vicente Del Bosque apparently convinced him to play for Spain over Brazil. You can hardly blame Del Bosque as at Euro 2012, even though they won the tournament, Spain played without a recognised striker for the most part and their apparent striker shortage has been well-documented. On current form, Costa would easily usurp the likes of Fernando Torres and Roberto Soldado to get a place in Spain’s squad. Obviously, if he wasn’t going to provide Del Bosque with a better option than the aforementioned Premier League pair, the Spanish manager wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of trying to get him on board.
However, the message this sends out to the rest of Spain’s potential strike force isn’t very positive. Despite Costa coming into the squad like a new club signing (and having never played a competitive match for them before), he now seems to have immediately jumped to the head of the queue. Not only is he now undoubtedly ahead of Torres and Soldado but presumably, he’ll now be the first choice striker ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente who arguably have done nothing wrong for their clubs this season. Now their place in their own national team’s squad (which they’ve done well to earn) has been inevitably jeopardised due to a player who they wouldn’t have even considered a rival for their place, until now. Costa’s addition has come out of the blue and whilst he would have no doubt made it into Brazil’s squad any way, it’s not really fair to suggest that he’s done more to earn his way into the Spain squad ahead of Negredo in particular.
In this day and age it’s no longer surprising to see a player faced with the ability to choose his own allegiance at international level. Rightly or wrongly, there are many examples of players who now qualify to play for multiple nations. However, they should not be able to simply swap sides in a fashion not dissimilar from transferring clubs. Certainly, the Diego Costa case sounds more like a transfer window scenario when a sought after player has to decide who to sign on the dotted line for. He may not have played a competitive game for Brazil but surely once you pull on an international shirt or accept a call-up into a particular squad, that’s it. That country is the one you represent for your entire career.
Not only that but his decision to switch from Brazil to Spain could set a dangerous pattern in international football. Theoretically, this now gives licence to any player who is eligible to play for more than one country to jump back and forth between teams for friendly matches. This would be the death of international football. National teams would begin to increasingly resemble club sides in that squads would be littered with players who are effectively “on trial” as they decide who to commit to and misfits who stick out like a sore thumb. Here’s hoping that one of the sharpest strikers in the world at the moment doesn’t become a misfit this summer.