‘A creature of habit’ – The inside track on Helder Costa’s Leeds United struggles
When Helder Costa completed his move to Leeds United, it was a move that seemed a no brainer for all parties.
In Costa, Leeds signed a player who had a track record of Championship success. The Portuguese winger enjoyed a stunning start to life in England in 2016/17, before playing a key role in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ promotion a season later.
For the player, the move to Elland Road provided Costa a welcome chance to rediscover the form that led many Wolves fans to label him the best to don an old gold shirt in a generation.
How Wolves fans reacted when the deal was confirmed
And finally, for Wolves, they are set to net a healthy £15m next summer, when the deal is made permanent. A hefty fee for a player Nuno Espirito Santo had seemingly deemed surplus to requirements.
But two months into his first season with the Whites, Costa has endured a difficult start to life in Yorkshire. Initially a substitute, he was made to wait for his first start in the league. But after being given three starts on the spin, he has failed to grasp his opportunity, being hauled off by Marcelo Bielsa in their latest defeat to Millwall.
So what has gone wrong?
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Costa was made to wait for his league start – why is that?
BC: “Costa made his full league debut for the Whites on September 28, the ninth Championship game of the season. The Portuguese had to wait because of the presence of Pablo Hernandez, in the main.
“Marcelo Bielsa is a creature of habit and he was always going to come into this new season with as many of last term’s trusted lieutenants as possible. That meant Hernandez, Adam Forshaw, Mateusz Klich and Jack Harrison began as first choices across the four midfield slots.
“It’s a similar situation with Eddie Nketiah waiting for his chance behind Patrick Bamford. The latter has simply had longer with Bielsa to bed in and acclimatise to the way he works. The trouble is, once you’re behind in the pecking order it’s very hard to get your foot in the door at Elland Road. Bielsa generally only makes changes for injuries and suspensions. Hernandez picked up an injury and Costa finally got his chance.”
Has Marcelo Bielsa said much about Costa since he joined, or given an explanation as to why he is being used more from the bench?
BC: “The above background is pretty much common knowledge across the United press pack, so there hasn’t been much need to quiz Bielsa on where he stands with Costa.
“Ahead of Costa’s full league debut at Charlton Athletic, Bielsa said: “He is ready, he is prepared. I cannot say I am happy because people will say I’m happy Pablo cannot play! I am happy for Helder and sad for Pablo. I do not want to take the risk, but I am happy Helder is playing.”
“Bielsa genuinely doesn’t see players being benched as a slight on their character. He expects to everyone to play their part, in a small squad, across a long season.”
When he has been given chances, has he performed well?
BC: “Generally, when he came on it was too late in matches to have a real impact. He assisted Nketiah for the winner at home to Brentford after coming on, which was arguably his single-biggest impact thus far.
How do the fans feel about him?
“Aside from that, whether he’s started or not, it’s hard to say he’s looked like a £15m player. He was pulled at half-time on Saturday in Millwall, for example.”
“Initially, while he was waiting in the wings for his chance, Costa was naturally seen as the saviour, the man to fix everything if only he was given a chance. Expectations were so high after his exploits at Molineux in the Championship and his price tag. The early flashes were decent from the bench, especially the assist at home to Brentford, but his starts have not followed that promise.
“With Hernandez recovering in the background and looking ready to return shortly, many fans would happily see Bielsa make that switch back to the Spaniard. It’s too early for any of the fans to make any firm judgements on Costa, but it’s fair to say his stock is low right now.”
Do you think he’ll be worth the eventual £15m Leeds will pay for him?
BC: “It’s impossible to predict the future. There is a heap of caveats for his early performances this term, but based on the trajectory of his performances at Wolverhampton Wanderers before he arrived, it’s difficult to find reasons why he will recapture that scintillating form of 2016/17.”