Throughout their 120-year history, Juventus have had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Brazilian players.
Cast your mind back to epic failures such as Diego and Felipe Melo, the pair who Alessio Secco banked on bringing the glory days back to Turin at the end of the ‘00s. The mere mention of Brazilian-born Amauri is enough to send Juve fans into a cold sweat and search for an alcohol-laced drink.
Then you have the lesser-known failures, young players who amounted to next to zero: Athirson and Gladstone, who together made a combined six appearances. Hernanes, Lucio, Neto, Romulo; the list goes on.
Only Julio Cesar (no not that one), Jose Altafini, Emerson and currently Alex Sandro have acquitted themselves with any real dignity in black and white down the years. Juventus have built numerous teams around the talents of French and Argentine players, and even the odd Irish and Welsh superstar, but samba and The Old Lady haven’t been a great mix, like oil and water.
Douglas Costa became only the 24th Brazilian to pull on the Bianconeri shirt, with the winger signing from Bayern Munich on loan with obligation to buy (since activated).
Many believed Costa would be a natural fit for Max Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Allegri’s implementation of the system during the latter half of 2016-17 meant Mario Mandzukic having to sacrifice himself as a left-winger for the sake of the collective good.
Yet, it also meant there was no-one on the bench to freshen things up during the course of a game; all of Allegri’s ‘five stars” as they were dubbed in the Italian media, were generally on the pitch at the same time. Douglas Costa’s signing was an attempt to alleviate the pressure on Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado.
In contrast to the blistering start of his Bayern career, where he laid on 10 assists in his first seven games, Costa’s opening months in Italy were disappointing. As is Allegri’s way with new signings, he slowly integrated the winger into the starting XI, only starting him in four league games up to the end of October. Costa, by the same token, hardly gave Allegri food for thought in those games. He looked remarkably off the pace and showed merely glimpses of what he’s capable of.
The player himself admitted he was still adapting to the stylistic virtues of Serie A. Whilst one can trot out the worn to shreds ‘Serie A is defensive and extremely difficult for attackers’ card, it is vastly different to the Bundesliga. While the cliché simply doesn’t hold up for teams in the top half of the league (and hasn’t for years), it certainly does for sides in the bottom half. Space is at a premium.
In recent weeks however, Costa has significantly raised his game. Never known for his willingness to defend in the past, he put in a fantastic shift in the 1-0 victory against Napoli. Indeed, Gonzalo Higuain’s goal came about from a Costa interception and a trademark speed-of-light shift on to his left foot before chipping the ball over Napoli midfielder Allan to Paulo Dybala.
Costa’s surge deep into the Napoli half occupied the thoughts of Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly, which in turn gave Higuain the space he needed to slot home Dybala’s perfectly weighted ball. Costa’s contribution to what could prove to be a crucial win in the context of the season shouldn’t be overlooked.
Another solid performance in the Champions League against Olympiacos is further evidence that Costa is finally settling into his new surroundings. With unexpected title challengers Inter and Roma on the horizon for Juventus before the end of the month, this, combined with Dybala going through a particularly rough patch of form, means the champions will need more of the same from the Brazilian.