Diego Ribas da Cunha, or Diego as he’s simply known, has with his eye-catching performances over the last couple of years emerged as one of the world’s most exciting footballers.
The pint-sized playmaker has—with his divine technical skills, magic footwork, inventive passing, and his cool finishing—restored the Bianconeri supporters’ hope of knocking Inter Milan down from their pedestal, as well as putting on an impressive show in Europe’s finest club tournament, the Champions League.
Diego started playing football at the age of six and entered the infamous Santos youth system at twelve years of age. The Brazilian made his debut four years later and, with the young Robinho at his side, quickly became infamous as they tore defenses into shreds on their way to the Brasileiro Campeonato league title in 2002.
In April 2003, the 18-year old made his first international appearance in the Selecão shirt and was also included in the squad that lost in the final to Mexico in the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Although Diego played in the U23 side, FIFA still counts it as a senior-team tournament. The Brazilian quickly became a key player and went on to play an integral part as Brazil won the Copa América in 2004.
In July 2004, Porto—with José Mourinho at the helm—signed the Brazilian playmaker for a fee of €8 million as they looked to replace Barcelona-bound Deco.
When Co Adriaanse replaced the Portuguese mastermind the following season, Diego soon found himself spending more and more time warming the bench. This consequently resulted in the fantasista losing his place in the national side.
In 2006, Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen paid €6 million for the bench-warming fantasista’s services—what a bargain they made! In his debut against Hannover, the playmaker not only scored his first goal for the club, but also provided two assists in the 4-2 victory.
Diego quickly became a fan favorite at the Weserstadion and the reference point of the team. After a high-flying start in his new club, he was soon called back to the national side, which went on to win another Copa América title.
On April 20 that same season, the playmaker scored what later turned out to be the “goal of the season” against Alemannia Aachen. Going on the counter, Diego quickly noticed the goalkeeper was standing too far out and decided to lift the ball from an amazing 62.5 meters—beating the goalkeeper as the ball first bounced to touch the crossbar and then into the net.
At one point during the season Werder Bremen even topped the table, but ultimately the Bremenclub finished in third place after champions Stuttgart and runners-up Schalke 04. Despite the final outcome, Diego still had plenty to smile about as he was voted “Player of the Season” after some truly mind-boggling performances in the physically tough Bundesliga.
The Brazilian continued on with the impressive performances the following season and played a vital part as the German side qualified for the group stages of the Champions League, but after finishing third they had to make do with the UEFA cup where they later crashed out in the quarter finals.
Ahead of the 2008/2009 season, Diego was part of the U23 side that won the bronze medal in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Things were, however, to only get better as the no. 10’s best and final season with Werder Bremen was due around the corner. Despite the club ultimately finishing at a lowly tenth place, Diego still managed to score an incredible 20 goals along the way—a total eclipsing the goal tally of his two previous seasons combined.
The Bundesliga outfit once again crashed out of the Champions League and into the UEFA Cup, where they were drawn against the cup favorites AC Milan. Milan was on the verge of qualifying to the round of 16, but an amazing comeback late into the second fixture—where the Brazilian played a pivotal part—saw the Italian giants eliminated in the first knock-out round of the tournament.
The playmaker then went on to score four of the six goals as well as one assist in the thrilling double fixtures against another Italian side, Udinese—going through to the semifinals on the away goal rule.
In the semifinals, Werder Bremen surprisingly lost at home to Hamburg by a 1-0 deficit. However, the team was able to overturn the result in the away fixture and once again go through on the away goal rule.
Unfortunately, Diego had picked up a booking which left him suspended for the final game against Shakthar Donetsk where the team fell to a 2-1 defeat.
On May 26, Juventus officially announced the €24.5 million signing of the Brazilian who had put pen to paper on a five-year deal as he switched his shirt number to 28 (2+8=10).
The newcomer was quickly labeled the best import to Serie A by La Gazzetta dello Sport. They weren’t exactly wrong following their statement when Diego finally introduced himself to his new crowd in the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.
Diego was viewed as the fantasista that would finally link together the midfield and attack with that creative spark that had been missing at the club for so long.
In his official Old Lady debut, Diego provided the assist to Vincenzo Iaquinta’s winning header against Chievo Verona with a brilliantly taken free-kick on top of an overall impressive outing.
In the following outing against classic opponents, AS Roma, the playmaker earned himself the highest rating as he scored a brace—one of which was a fantastic solo-run as he outran two defenders and slotted the ball into the far post from the tightest of angles in front of an ecstatic crowd.
A preseason and only two games into the new campaign, and the little magician from Ribeirão Preto has already earned himself a spot in the Bianconeri supporters’ heart and is by many regarded as the player that will lead the team to the desirable Scudetto come May.
To say that the expectations on the little magician are high is probably an understatement.
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