Bundesliga Players Abroad – Diego’s season at Atlético Madrid

Diego Ribas is an offensive midfielder well known for his dangerous long distance shots, his clever passing and his dizzying dribbling ability. Bundesliga supporters best remember him from his time with Werder Bremen where has was arguably the best “Nummer 10” in the league but aside from his footballing ability, he is also known for his sometimes difficult character. Since leaving Bremen, Diego struggled to rekindle that form and his latest attempt at rediscovering that form is coming in Spain where he is on loan from Wolfsburg. His spell with Atletico Madrid may well rejuvenate a seemingly stagnant career. 

Wolfsburg signed Diego in the summer of 2010 and gave him a multi-million Euro contract. After a difficult time in Italy with Juventus, former Wolfsburg coach Steve McClaren was hoping he could make him into the player he was at Bremen in his time there betwee 2006 to 2009.  As we all know, that didn’t turn out very well. First Diego missed the penalty that arguably cost McClaren his job, then he managed to fall out with McClaren’s successor, Felix Magath. On the last day of Diego’s first season at Wolfsburg, Magath decided to leave him off the squad entirely and Diego decided to go home and leave his team hanging and struggling for survival. Magath decided afterwards that Diego won’t play another game for Wolfsburg’s first team as long as he was in charge.

Diego's time at Wolfsburg was the bleakest moment of his Bundesliga career.

Due to this incident Atlético Madrid took the opportunity to pick up the Brazilian on loan for one season during the last days of 2011’s transfer period. Atléticos problem zone has always been the lack of a creative midfielder and with Diego they tried to close this gap. After the departure of their key players Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán, they also managed to sign the Colombian striker Falcao from FC Porto and Arda Turan from Galatasaray Istanbul. With their new coach they tried to form a squad resembling FC Barcelona, with a lot of ball possession and quick passes. Diego of course was meant to be the creative brain in midfield, delivering Falcao with tons of passes.

After a good start to the season Diego quickly became a fan favorite. With his brilliant technique and his great dribbling he played himself into the supporter’s hearts. But the team’s performances gradually worsened, especially struggling in away games. Halfway through the season now, they only managed one point away from home. They always had a lot of ball possession but no idea of what to do with it. They struggled to create a lot of chances and with their form waning the project seemed dead in the water and the coach was subsequently fired. To only blame Diego for this would be a complete exaggeration. He was one of the few players that always gave his all on the pitch, week after week, assisting 5 goals and scoring three himself halfway into the season. You can say that he feels at home in Madrid. He receives a lot of respect from the fans, the players, the coaches and the media and he shows a lot of effort in return.  After the fallout with Magath, you can sense that he finally feels appreciated.

After coach Manzanos dismissal shortly before Christmas holidays and with the signing of Diego Simeone as new coach we have to see which role Diego will occupy in the new formation. Simeone likes to rely on counter attacks and wants a more physical game rather than keeping the ball. In his first game under coach Simeone, Diego played his usual role as offensive midfielder but the coach might want to change the system which could see Diego out wide instead of the center.

All things considered, one can really see that Diego has taken the opportunity to show everybody that he is still a very good player. He seems to not want to sit out his contract at Wolfsburg after the loan deal expires and he very well knows that a lot of coaches and managers monitor every step he takes. So it is not a miracle that Bremens manager Klaus Allofs said in an interview with BILD that he would like to have Diego back at his old club.

“We had a great time with Diego and he always behaved very professionally. A transfer seems difficult at the moment, but we will definitely look into it if the opportunity arises.”

Diego himself played down the rumor during a press conference after a training session and said:

“Atlético is my present and my future. It’s a stage in which I am devoting my strength to help Atleti achieve their objectives. When the season ends we’ll see, but right now I am only thinking about Villarreal. I have a great deal of respect for this team.”

Allofs won’t be the last manager to come out and say that he would like to have the Brazilian in his team. With a return to form so far and no new “scandals”to speak of, he will no undoubtedly attract a lot of clubs with the summer edging closer. And I think Wolfsburg too, can think of better situations than paying several millions a year for a player in the fourth division of the German league.

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