How Mourinho and Mendes scuppered Liverpool's move for Diego Costa | Goal.com
On the face of it, it looked the perfect fit.
A growing club, an ambitious young coach and one of Europe's best emerging strikers. What's not to like?
Liverpool had done their homework, they'd scouted the player extensively, completed all the necessary background checks and met the release clause in the contract.
Diego Costa, it seemed, was on his way to Anfield.
And then Jose Mourinho intervened.
The summer of 2013 was a tough one for the Reds. Brendan Rodgers' first season on Merseyside had been a mixed one, and he had a number of issues to sort out ahead of his second.
Jamie Carragher had retired, while another long-serving star, Pepe Reina, was to be replaced by Simon Mignolet as first-choice goalkeeper.
Luis Suarez's future, meanwhile, was up in the air. The Uruguayan had been banned for 10 matches after biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and had expressed a desire to leave the club, accusing Rodgers and Liverpool of breaking a promise to let him go should they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Rodgers' attempts to add to his squad proved difficult. Liverpool wanted Henrikh Mkhitaryan, only for the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder to choose Borussia Dortmund, and late in the window they were beaten to the signing of Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala, with the Brazilian instead joining Chelsea.
A move for Costa, they hoped, would turn out differently. The Brazil-born frontman had enjoyed a breakthrough season with Atletico Madrid in 2012-13, scoring 20 times in all competitions and forging a deadly partnership with the brilliant Radamel Falcao. Aggressive, strong and deadly in front of goal, he was seen as the perfect foil for the likes of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.
Despite Rodgers' initial reservations - which centred largely around Costa's occasional bouts of ill-discipline - the Reds' recruitment team, led by Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter, compiled an extensive dossier on the then-24-year-old. Early conversations with the player's representatives were encouraging, and Liverpool were able to discover the existence of a €25million (£20.75m/$27m) release clause in Costa's contract.
With Suarez still angling to leave - this, remember, was the summer of Arsenal 's infamous £40m plus £1 offer - Liverpool made their move at the end of July, triggering the release clause in full.
They were only side to do so, but if they had hoped for a swift and straightforward resolution, they were to be left disappointed. A few days later, Costa was penning a new three-year extension at Atletico, telling the world how happy and content he was in the Spanish capital.
Why the sudden change? Liverpool thought they had their man, but they reckoned without the influence of Mourinho and Jorge Mendes.
Mourinho had returned to Chelsea as manager that summer, and had identified Costa as an ideal signing.
The trouble was that Roman Abramovich, the owner, was against the idea of a major overhaul at that point. Abramovich was still very much invested in the idea of Fernando Torres as his club's No.9, and hopes were high for a clutch of young players at the club, including Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and the newly-signed Andre Schurrle.
And so a plan was hatched. Mendes, who represents both Mourinho and Costa, advised Costa against joining Liverpool. Sit tight, he was told, and Chelsea would come for him the following summer. And in the meantime, of course, he could pick up a hefty pay increase from Atletico.
Liverpool, then, were left disappointed. Their major attacking signings that summer were Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, cheap gambles from Celta Vigo and Sevilla respectively, and Victor Moses, who joined on loan from Mourinho's Chelsea. Between them, those three scored a grand total of one league goal that season - though all went on to impress at various times after leaving Merseyside.
Costa, meanwhile, kicked on again. He scored 36 goals as Atletico embarked on a remarkable 2013-14 campaign. Diego Simeone's side won the La Liga title, their first for 17 years, and were seconds away from a first-ever Champions League crown too. Had Costa not been forced off injured in the final against Real Madrid, who knows what might have happened?
It was to be his farewell appearance. He joined Chelsea for £32million ($42m) that July, and his 21 goals would help fire them to the Premier League crown in his first season in London. He would later win another title under Antonio Conte.
Sidelined since November with a back problem, Costa could be available to face Liverpool on Tuesday night as the Champions League knockout stages get underway.
And he won't be the only familiar face greeting Jurgen Klopp and his side.
Team-mate Saul Niguez, for example, might have moved to Anfield a few months after the deal for Costa fell through. Saul, then just 19 and on loan at Rayo Vallecano, was tracked extensively alongside another Atleti youngster, full-back Javi Manquillo, with the pair sharing an agent, Margarita Pilar Garay.
With Lucas Leiva attracting interest in the January window, 2014, a loan-to-buy deal for Saul was proposed by Liverpool. In the end, though, Lucas opted to stay, and Saul would establish himself as a starter under Simeone the following season. Manquillo, meanwhile, would 'enjoy' a low-key year on loan with Liverpool.
More recently, the Reds targeted two more players whom they could face on Tuesday night. Midfielder Thomas Partey was on a list of potential targets in early 2018, with Liverpool instead choosing to pursue Monaco star Fabinho.
A year earlier, of course, it had been another Monaco player on the Reds' agenda, Liverpool tabling bids of £55m ($72m) and £64m ($83m) for attacking midfielder Thomas Lemar as the summer window drew to a close.
Medical staff were sent to Paris on deadline day, but with Monaco, emboldened by interest from Arsenal, demanding £90m ($117m), the deal for Lemar collapsed. The French international joined Atletico a year later, but his form in Madrid has been fitful. He is by no means a guaranteed starter.
The same goes for Costa, whose last appearance came on November 10 and who had managed just two goals in 15 outings prior to that.
The snarl is still there, of course. That will never leave him. But at 31, Costa is not the force he was once was.
Certainly, there will be no envious eyes cast in his direction by Liverpool tomorrow night. The Reds' transfer market woes are a thing of the past.
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