Goal.com 50: Diego (21)

Goal.com continues to count down our 50 best players of 2008-09 with new Juventus midfielder Diego.

22. Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

21. DIEGO (Werder Bremen/ Juventus & Brazil)

20. Thierry Henry (Barcelona & France)

Brazilian midfield maestro Diego Ribas da Cunha has finally made the move away from the Weserstadion to the ‘big’ European club that has been predicted for him for a few years now. Another excellent season individually for Werder Bremen led Juventus to shell out some €24.5 million for his services.

The 2008-09 season began in controversy for the 24-year-old following his decision to go AWOL from Werder Bremen in order to fulfil his dream to play for Brazil at the Olympics. His German employers had refused to release him for the Beijing tournament, but he went against Werder’s wishes and flew to Paris to link with Carlos Dunga’s squad nonetheless.

He played in all six of Brazil’s matches, scoring in the group stage against China, but he couldn’t prevent his country from being knocked out at the semi-final stage by South American rivals Argentina. There was some compensation for his decision to travel when he won an Olympic bronze medal, scoring one of the goals in the third-place play-off against Belgium. 

He returned in time for Werder’s third game of the season and went about making amends for defying the club by scoring four goals in his first five matches. A superb performance in Werder’s 5-1 hammering of Hertha Berlin in November, in which he scored one, provided two assists and generally ran the show, meant that all was forgiven. He was once again the favourite son. 

In a rather disappointing Bundesliga campaign, in which Werder finished tenth, Diego scored 12 goals and provided six assists. However, the Brazilian was to prove instrumental in seeing the Green and Whites to two cup finals, providing their season with a silver lining.

Having dropped out of the Champions League, a Diego inspired Werder then marched through the UEFA Cup, taking some prized scalps along the way. Their opening opponents were Italian giants Milan, and a 2-2 draw at the San Siro set Werder up for the second-leg 1-1 draw which sent them through on the away goals rule. The all-important goal in the second-leg was scored by Diego. 

Creative Genius | Diego's influence was key for
Werder Bremen last season

Saint-Etienne were brushed aside before Diego took centre-stage once more in the quarter-final clash with Udinese. The Brazilian scored two goals in each leg to see Werder into a semi-final clash with German rivals Hamburg. They lost the first-leg 1-0 at home, but Diego scored one of the goals at the HSH Nordbank Arena that ultimately saw Thomas Schaaf’s side into the final. 

However, joy soon turned to despair after a wholly unnecessary yellow card for a silly altercation with fellow Brazilian Alex Silva ruled Diego out of the final.  Werder went on to rue the loss of their talismanic playmaker as they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk after extra-time in the final. Diego's six goals in eight games were the main reason the Bundesliga side were there in the first place though. 

Joy did come in the German DFB Pokal, in which Werder beat Bayer Leverkusen in the final at the Olympiastadion. It was Diego’s heir apparent at the Weserstadion, Mesut Oezil, who scored the winning goal, but the Brazilian was once again a key-part in the club’s progression to the final. 

He scored both goals in the 5-2 away win over Wolfsburg, as well as providing assists in five games on the way to the final. 

2008-09 HONOURS

Werder Bremen

DFB Pokal (2009)

UEFA Cup Runner-Up (2009)

Brazil

Olympic Bronze Medal (2008)

Mathew Burt, Goal.com

22. Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

21. DIEGO (Werder Bremen/ Juventus & Brazil)