Jose Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure when discussing the fitness of Diego Costa in recent weeks, but to his credit, has seen the lighter side of things at times.
Even after Chelsea‘s 1-1 draw with Manchester United last weekend, Costa’s absence and his return date was top of the agenda with reporters, leaving Mourinho to repeat a line he has often said since the last international break.
“He aggravated his hamstrings [when on international duty] as he played two games in three days and he was not with us,” Mourinho explained to reporters.
The Chelsea boss was then asked if the Spaniard would be fit ahead of this weekend’s London derby with Queens Park Rangers and, if so, would his return would mean it was the end of his problems.
“He has national team in November,” he quipped, referring to the upcoming international break as if to suggest it’s a bigger concern than Costa’s hamstrings.
In the week since Costa missed that trip to Old Trafford, Chelsea have travelled to Shrewsbury Town for their Capital One Cup fourth round clash, winning 2-1 in his absence, and now QPR loom.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game, Mourinho was eager to stress the point of how cautious he must be with his star man.
“Now [Costa] is available again, but he needs obviously to be again under special care and we are going to do that, it is the only thing we can do,” he explained, per ChelseaFC.com.
Without the player’s control, the debate over his fitness is going to ramble on for some time. Chelsea have their interests, as do the Spanish national team, only he can’t do it all.
Costa cannot win Chelsea the title and help Spain qualify for Euro 2016 by himself. He needs to be helped in managing his workload and when he can play.
Mourinho‘s point regarding the international break is a clear one: Chelsea have got Costa fit again after he returned to the club, but the beneficiaries of the club’s hard work will be Vicente del Bosque and his team.
The player may well be match fit, but can he maintain his fitness by playing regular football so quick after his return?
The answer is probably no, especially when it involves hamstrings.
Something’s got to give and considering Spain’s fixtures next month, the right thing would be for Costa to be spared, allowed to rest to get his strength back to optimum levels.
Del Bosque‘s side face Belarus in a Euro 2016 qualifier, followed up by a friendly with Germany. It’s hardly vital that he is there.
Given the talent Spain have at their disposal, a home tie with the Belarusians should end only one way, with or without Costa. The friendly with Germany will hardly be top of the agenda, either.
Even Germany coach Joachim Low has admitted he’ll be using that fixture as a way to give fringe players an opportunity.
“It’s a test match,” Low was quoted as saying in Kicker, per ESPN. “And thus I consider granting one or a few other players a break.”
He’s celebrated for his tactics and approach, but Low should also be applauded for his man-management as well.
He understands the bigger picture and the need for his players to be given periods of rest in the season, especially in friendly matches that have little bearing on a team’s development.
In the same way as Germany’s biggest names will benefit, the long-term view for Costa would be equally positive.
Not only would the striker have time to train and receive the “special care” Mourinho describes, being omitted for the November internationals would take him out of the firing line.
Costa would no longer be caught in the middle of a game of politics: On one side it’s Chelsea trying to protect their £32 million investment, on the other it’s a national team manager refusing to back down against an old adversary.
In terms of Costa’s long-term fitness and state of mind, Spain must ask themselves if playing him in November will really be beneficial to the player.
Del Bosque has an opportunity to make amends with Chelsea and turn this ongoing spat around.
Whether or not he takes it remains to be seen.
*All quotes taken firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report’s lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes