After lengthy talks and negotiations over a permanent transfer away from the club during the summer, it became clear that the relationship between Wolfsburg manager Felix Magath and Brazilian playmaker Diego would be put to the test once again. No other club was willing to pay the former Juventus player’s wages, including the most obvious suitors Atlético Madrid, where he had spent a successful loan spell last season that ended in Europa League triumph.
So Diego had to return to Northern Germany, where he teamed up with his former manager once again - a man who suspended him 18 months ago for storming out of the dressing room having learned that he would not be in the team for a crucial relegation clash against Hoffenheim in May 2011.
Both player and manager promised the fans that they would give each other a second chance in an attempt to lead the club back into Europe ahead of the current season. However, after a victory in the opening game, Wolfsburg went 7 games without a win, collecting just 2 more points in that period.
The manager was sacked following a 0-2 home defeat against Freiburg in gameweek 8. It was a game in which Diego, who had a team high WhoScored rating of 7.45 up to that point but no goals or assists to his name, sat on the bench for the entire 90 minutes.
Quickly after the sacking of his old boss, interim manager Lorenz Günther Köstner took over in the VW city and tasked himself with improving the Brazilian’s form again by making him feel wanted – something he rarely felt working under the clinical and often cynical Magath.
Diego immediately repaid Köstner’s faith, leading his team to a 4-1 away win at Düsseldorf with a WhoScored rating of 9.67 having opened his account for both goals and assists. His strong form continued up until the winter break and Diego averaged a WhoScored rating of 8.14 in 9 games under Köstner (compared to 7.45 In 7 games under Magath), scoring 4 and assisting 3 goals (compared to 0 goals and 0 assists under Magath) and earning an outstanding 5 WhoScored Man of the Match awards during that spell (compared to 0 under Magath).
Over the first half of the season Diego’s average WhoScored rating is 7.84, making him the 4th highest rated player in the league. Tallies of 4 goals and 3 assists are decent, but he can certainly improve on those when the season continues in January.
An average of 2.3 shots per game ranks the playmaker in the Bundesliga’s top 20 and, in addition to an impressive 2.3 key passes per game, shows his worth as a scorer as well as a provider. Furthermore, an average of 4 successful dribbles per game is the 2nd best figure in the league, only behind Bayern winger Franck Ribéry - evidence of the great individual class the Brazilian brings to the team.
Diego has been fouled more often than any other Bundesliga player up to now (3.8 times per game), showing how hard it is to stop the Brazilian in full flow. With 1.9 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game, he even offers more support to the defence than many would expect.
Ahead of Toni Kroos (50.2 passes per game), he is also the central attacking midfielder with the most passes per game in the league, averaging 54.3; an astonishing number for a player playing so high up the pitch.
Another category that Wolfsburg’s risen star tops is accurate through balls per game, with an average of 0.6 again ahead of Bayern’s Franck Ribéry and Toni Kroos (both have 0.4 accurate through balls per game).
All in all, Diego’s rise in form following Felix Magath’s sacking is clear, even though he was already the team’s best player before, and his importance has increased significantly under interim manager Köstner; a man he highly respects.
Interestingly, another man that Diego has always held in high regard is former Bremen sporting director Klaus Allofs, who brought him to Germany for a fee of around €6 million from Porto in summer 2006. Coincidentally, Allofs took over at Wolfsburg at the end of November and it is now his task to get the best out of his reunited star player by bringing in a manager who can successfully accommodate the Brazilian number 10.