Chelsea vs Everton: Costa crime sheet grows as Toffees salute their new Lineker

14 Mar

This was a story of two centre-forwards, one whom Jose Mourinho thought surplus to Chelsea’s requirements, the other whom he considered central to his plans. One took Everton to Wembley, the other dragged his team to the kind of gutter that used to be home to Luis Suarez at his worst.

There are many reasons why Mourinho might not be a natural choice for Manchester United and his decision-making over Costa and Lukaku is one of them.

Their transfer fees are similar but the cost of Costa is far higher. If you lived in Yorkshire in the early 1970s, you would have witnessed some magnificent performances from Don Revie’s teams but now, seen through the prism of history, they remain forever “Dirty Leeds”. 

Costa’s contribution to Chelsea’s title last year, his record of a goal in every other game, will be forgotten long after his various crimes and misdemeanours are recalled.

He may not have bitten Gareth Barry before he was dismissed as this FA Cup semi-final reached a dark, feverish climax but the play-acting, the spitting in the direction of the referee, Michael Oliver, meant he earned the reception he received as he walked off the pitch.

When Guus Hiddink leaves Stamford Bridge after a salvage operation that will not end as gloriously as his last, there will need to be a wholesale reconstruction of a club whose season has ground to a halt in mid-March. The club’s image needs to be part of that.

Until Saturday night, the image of Everton was of a club that, under Roberto Martinez, had offered a lot more than it delivered. The comment, delivered by the West Bromwich manager, Tony Pulis, as a biting aside was correct.

They possess the quality to be a top-five side, but they went into the FA Cup quarter-final in the bottom half of the table. They were too fragile and Martinez’s obsession with pretty, passing football was weighing the club down. Here, Martinez played three in central midfield and proved that Everton could mix it.

This was a night of some brutal tackles and few chances – and when they came his way, Lukaku took them better than Costa.

The Everton manager is often guilty of hyperbole but his remark last season that Lukaku could be the best centre-forward in the world might not be very wide of  the mark.

He is 22 and nobody has found the net more from open play in this season’s Premier League. You would have to go back to Gary Lineker, 30 years ago, to find an Everton player who has scored more in a season than Lukaku’s 25. 

Everton could not keep hold of Lineker. They may have finished second in 1986 but Heysel had ensured they could not offer European football and they sold him to Barcelona for what, in today’s terms, would be £7.5m.

Someone would have to offer almost 10 times that amount to take Lukaku from Goodison Park, although even with fresh investment from the Iranian tycoon, Farhad Moshiri, Martinez was prepared to concede it was  possible.

“If Manchester United cannot keep Cristiano Ronaldo, that is the sign of the modern game,” he said. “If you sell a player for those sorts of amounts, you can get the benefits of adding three or four players to your squad. It is down to bringing the right characters in and I think we have done that for the last three years.”

This was Moshiri’s first taste of Goodison Park and he must have thought his timing very sweet. For Martinez, his arrival carried a double edge. He would increase the resources available to him but he would not be as indulgent as Everton’s chairman, Bill Kenwright. 

Semi-finals in the League and now FA Cups are a significant statement of what Everton, despite their dreadful home form, are capable of. In the afterglow of victory, Martinez talked of returning the club to the standards of the 1980s, something that is probably beyond even Moshiri’s money. But for a few giddy moments after Lukaku scored his second, Goodison felt like it was 1985 once more.


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