Fans of German football do not have to go back very far in time to remember when VfL Wolfsburg, on the backs of incredible performances from strikers Grafite and Edin Džeko, shocked the league in 2009 by winning the Bundesliga title, seemingly out of nowhere. However, failure to follow-up on this success, coupled by the loss of Džeko to Manchester City in January of 2011 saw Wolfsburg nearly out of the top flight when they managed only a 15th place finish, a mere 2 points off of the relegation playoff spot. Flashing forward to the present, Wolfsburg find themselves in the middle of the pack struggling to secure a place in the European qualifying spots and also facing a similar situation regarding the (potential) departure of their current star player, Diego.
Diego’s time at Wolfsburg can probably best be summed up as an “on again, off again” relationship. The 2010-2011 season was widely considered a disaster for Die Wölfe where only a 3-1 win over Hoffenheim on the final match day was the difference between safety and the relegation playoff spot. The club’s struggle on the pitch was effectively mirrored by Diego’s own personal struggle, where he was fined twice by the club for his unprofessional behaviour, including being left out of the squad for the aforementioned final league match vs. Hoffenheim. On the field however Diego was a relative success, scoring 6 league goals and contributing a club high 9 assists.
Still, Diego’s on-field production wasn’t enough to endear himself to the new manager and familiar face Felix Magath, who was hired on the 18th March of 2011 a mere 2 days after he was let go of his post at Schalke; to underscore the general disarray, Magath was the 4th manager to lead the club in a calendar year. As Magath was not shy about stating how Diego was not to play much of a part of the Wolfsburg team going forward, the Brazilian was moved in the summer of 2011 on a season long loan to Atlético Madrid, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The playmaker was a regular squad player on the Atlético side that managed a 5th place finish in La Liga and was a pivotal player in the side’s march to the Europa League final which saw the Madrid side overcome fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao 3-0 to lift the trophy; Diego starred in the final match setting up Falcao’s opening goal and then scoring the third himself.
It seemed a no-brainer that Diego would complete a full time move to Spain but the potential fee to capture his signature was deemed far too rich for Atlético’s blood and he returned back to Wolfsburg, and Magath, to start the 2012-2013 season. Time did not appear to heal old wounds.
Citing an unimpressive training session and general dislike for his attitude, Magath threatened to demote Diego to the Wolfsburg reserve team, a side that is currently playing in Germany’s 4th tier of football. However the threat was never acted upon and Diego remained in the Wolfsburg first team to start the season; indeed to emphasise just how hollow the threat was, Diego played all 90 minutes of the first 7 league matches, a stretch that saw the club go 1-2-4 and languish at the bottom of the Bundesliga table. In the next league encounter Diego would be an unused substitute in Wolfsburg’s 2-0 home defeat to Freiburg, which was to be the final nail in Magath’s coffin as the club parted ways with the manager shortly after.
With the spectre of Magath banished, Diego’s fortunes turned around immediately. In his first match under the interim boss Lorenz-Günther Köstner vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf, Diego scored his first goal of the season in addition to the 2 assists be tallied. It seemed as if a huge weight (perhaps 4 or 5 medicine balls’ worth) had been lifted from off his shoulders.
Under full time manager Dieter Hecking’s watch Diego’s extended run of good form has played a vital role in Wolfsburg’s fight against the drop. In every game this season that Diego has registered either a goal or an assist (or both), the club has gone undefeated. His 7 goals represent slightly more than 20% of his team’s total and his 5 assists coupled with his 42 key passes represent a similar percentage of his side’s overall chances created. He is far and away his club’s best passer and is amongst the league leaders in key passes and accurate through balls per appearance. Needless to say, more often than not, the offence runs through him and how Diego goes, so does Wolfsburg.
It would therefore be prudent for the club to keep such a player of importance and qualifying for the Europa League would seem to be a minimum pre-requisite to accomplish such a feat, and it doesn’t appear to be an impossible task, although the Pokal route to Europe is likely cut off due to being drawn away to Bayern in the semi-finals. So the league seems to be the most feasible way in.
Currently with 7 matches remaining Wolfsburg sit on 32 points, 7 off 6th placed Mainz and the final European qualifying spot and 10 points from 5th placed Frankfurt. In this final stretch Wolfsburg have matches vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hamburg, and Frankfurt who all are all three ahead of them in the table to say nothing of the match vs. Werder Bremen who sit 1 point behind. Destiny is in their own hands.
With all that said Diego’s permanent departure from the club is still very up in the air, and it likely hinges on his ambition to be brought back into the fold for his national team for the 2014 World Cup; incidentally his contract at Wolfsburg expires that summer as well. Diego has 4 goals in his 34 caps for Brazil but has not played since 2008 when he featured in a 2010 World Cup Qualifier against Bolivia. With the fierce competition for attacking spots in the squad, Diego will need to prove himself capable of playing consistently and at a high level to even be considered for a spot. Playing for a middling club such as Wolfsburg may not give him the exposure, especially if there is no European campaign to augment his play in the Bundesliga.
Will Wolfsburg and Diego be able to kiss and make up, or will he finally just tell the club that it isn’t them it is him and they need to go their separate ways and see other people? The final months of this season will very much dictate where this offensively talented player will end up.
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