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By: timbersfan , 5:56 AM GMT on February 16, 2014
Wolfsburg say goodbye to enigmatic Diego
By Ross Dunbar | February 15, 2014 9:46:50 AM PST
VfL Wolfsburg have seen the many shades of Diego. The skilful, fleet-footed ingenuity of his Werder Bremen days, his first foray in Europe, were fleeting glimpses, not enough to ever become the fulcrum of the team.
And so in the closing moments of the January window, the Brazilian returned to Atletico Madrid on a permanent transfer in a deal worth around 1.5 million euros. It brings to an end an eventful, colourful and divisive three-and-a-bit year spell in Germany; in truth, a move which will please both parties after failing to really justify the lavish transfer fee from Juventus.
The Brazilian doesn't necessarily possess fifty shades all told, but Diego was rarely out of the spotlight during his time in Wolfsburg. He managed 24 goals in 87 matches with 23 assists -- and the same number of yellow cards.
Diego's first spat with authority came when Steve McClaren was the coach of the 2009 Bundesliga winners. The Brazilian was the club's marquee signing that summer, costing 15 million euros from Juventus -- a sign that Wolfsburg still meant business after the Championship success a year before.
With the pressure building on the former Middlesbrough and England manager as Wolfsburg languished at the bottom end of the table, three points were an invaluable commodity to the Wolves. And so in a mid-February trip to Hannover 96, Wolfsburg were awarded a spot-kick and after wrestling the ball from Patrick Helmes, Diego went on to smack the crossbar and his side lost 1-0.
"We had agreed that, should we be awarded a penalty, Patrick would take it. We announced that to the team, but Diego defied the instruction. He should not have taken the penalty," fumed McClaren, who handed the Brazilian a fine of 84,000 pounds.
The Englishman's days in Germany were soon numbered and the club re-appointed Felix Magath to the helm when Pierre Littbarski couldn't turn things around in his month-long interim role. Only 12 months since his arrival from Juventus, Diego had booked, signed and dotted his departure from Wolfsburg after a spat with Magath.
The totalitarian coach was appalled by Diego's decision to leave the team hotel ahead of their match at Hoffenheim -- their Bundesliga status was riding on that final game -- after being dropped from the starting eleven. Although Wolfsburg emerged from the relegation dogfight, Diego was fined 500,000 euros for his petulance and also forced to train with the second squad.
Wolfsburg were keen to offload the player -- a 10 million euro valuation was placed on his shoulders -- and in the summer, Diego agreed to join Atletico Madrid on a season-long loan deal.
That spell allowed Diego to reconcile his differences, and he returned to Wolfsburg with the hope of living up to the star-player expectation. Yet his annual salary of 8.2 million euros became a problem. Wolfsburg -- and Volkswagen -- were stuck with the Brazilian for the remainder of his contract.
Diego wrote an open letter to Wolfsburg supporters through official club channels, thanking the club's hierarchy for a second chance: "I know that I have many of you are very disappointed at the end of the season before last, although I have been so warmly welcomed here in Wolfsburg. Here are my family and I always felt at home," Diego said.
It helped as the Brazilian performed sporadically under short-term coach Lorentz Gunther-Kostner before the arrival of Dieter Hecking from 1.FC Nurnberg in January marked a noticeable shift in his on-pitch application. The midfielder bought into the philosophy of the club's new head coach, who had traditionally mastered defensively solid and hard-working teams in Franconia.
Yet the club continued to flounder thanks to their a reactive transfer policy, splashing out almost at will when handed the cheque book from controlling stakeholders Volkswagen. Players like Christian Träsch, Rasmus Jonsson, Giovanni Sio, Felipe, Naldo and Fagner were added to the already piling Wolfsburg roster, which led to cohesive issues within the squad – and thus, the appointment of Hecking and Allofs has marked a big change in policy around the club.
Hecking's team-focused philosophy, leaving the individualism of the past behind, inspired Diego to his best period of football at Wolfsburg and he chipped in with six goals after Hecking’s arrival in January. The match that really typified his natural ability was the 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in April in which he was outstanding, scoring a goal and setting up the other two.
However, the emergence of 18-year-old attacking-midfielder Maximilian Arnold saw Diego become increasingly surplus to requirements. Upon Arnold's integration into first-team football, Diego was displaced from the central No. 10 role in favour of the languid and direct Arnold whose left-foot, vision for passes and more efficient nature of play improved Wolfsburg's attacking trident.
Diego worked hard in a wide position, but remained ineffective. Santos couldn't prize him away from Germany in December, yet it was always on the cards for a January departure with his contract expiring in six months. It was simple: wait until the summer and lose him for free, while still paying his bumper salary, or save on the excesses. In the end, Atletico Madrid were all too willing to oblige.
While investment has been focused in certain areas during the window, removing Diego's massive salary from the books is a sensible one for both parties considering that Wolfsburg expect Portuguese flanker Vierinhia to return from injury, adding to left-side options such as Ivan Perisic and Daniel Caligiuri. Meanwhile, Kevin de Bruyne was recruited after a 20 million outlay from Chelsea and the Belgian has the diligent, team-oriented tendencies that complement his forward-thinking play from midfield.
Ultimately, Diego will be a loss for the nation's tabloids and mixed zones -- he's regularly trotted out by the DFL because of his sound command of English -- but despite being a decent servant for the club, Wolfsburg and their fans will be happy to see him go.
Tags:WolfsburgAtletico MadridRoss DunbarDiego
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