The grimace on the face of Diego Costa was all too familiar but it hadn’t been caused by a referee or opposition player.
It was because the striker was feeling the effects of pre-season training. That is effectively what Costa is going through despite it being October.
Having completed a £54m return to Atletico Madrid last month the Spain international is being worked hard by the Atleti fitness coaches after he spent his summer back in his native Brazil while in a standoff with former club Chelsea.
But how is that allowed when the club were meant to be under a transfer ban?
Well it’s all about the details and that’s why we asked our friends at Football Whispers to explain why the 29-year-old is able to train with Atletico.
One text from Antonio Conte back in June was all it took to end Costa’s Chelsea career. But, in truth, the writing had been on the wall even before the Italian informed the striker he was no longer in his plans.
Several weeks prior to Conte’s text the Blues had made it clear they wanted to sign another striker, namely Romelu Lukaku.
And there was no way the big Belgian would even consider moving to Stamford Bridge to play second fiddle – so Costa had to be moved on.
Originally it was thought he’d be allowed to leave for the riches of the Chinese Super League, but money isn’t everything to Costa and it soon became apparent he hankered for a move back to Atletico, the club he’d left in 2014 for Chelsea.
But there was a problem. The Spanish club had been unable to overturn a FIFA ban allowing them to register new players until January 2018.
Atletico claimed in a statement after the Court of Arbitration for Sport turned down their appeal: “This ruling is unfair and causes an irreparable damage to our club.”
“Atletico handed transfer ban” was the headline on many sporting websites but that wasn’t entirely correct.
The club could sign as many players as they wanted but they couldn’t register them with La Liga and, as a result, they wouldn’t be able to play any competitive football for Atleti until the ban was lifted in January.
Workarounds were required and that is what Atletico did.
Firstly the club and Diego Simeone managed to convince Manchester United transfer target Antoine Griezmann to remain at the club and sign a new contract, although his €100m buy-out clause wasn’t increased.
Secondly, they decided to push ahead with their transfer plans and bought Vitolo from Sevilla for €36m. However, they immediately sent him on loan to Las Palmas so he could continue to play regular first-team football before he returns in January.
And thirdly, once they knew it was Atleti or nobody for Costa, they could be patient in their pursuit of the star – there was no point trying to get the deal done before the window closed given he couldn’t play until January anyway.
Chelsea, who missed out on Lukaku to Manchester United but signed another of their transfer targets, Alvaro Morata, played hardball for some time and eventually got the deal they wanted.
On September 21, a deal was struck and confirmed – Costa would return to Atleti but he was far from fit. An intense training regime was required and notorious fitness coach Oscar ‘Profe’ Ortega was the man to design it.
And that is why Costa was caught on video grimacing earlier this week.
He may not enjoy the hard yards he’s having to put in every day but, given he can’t play matches, it’s the only way to ensure he’s ready come January.