He cost €27m, now Arsenal could sign him for free

Mesut Ozil can not only rescue Arsenal, but an old pal too.

Arsenal have in the last 24 hours been linked with Brazilian playmaker Diego, so we decided to explore the storied career of the sensational talent, and his struggle to recapture his early promise.

Diego first burst onto the scene back in Brazil a decade ago, as an exciting young playmaker, dazzling with former Manchster City duo Robinho, Elano in a title winning Santos side.

It saw him hailed as a wonderkid and called into make his debut with the Selecao at just 18-years-old. He helped a young squad reach the final of the 2003 Gold Cup, and inspired them to a 2004 Copa America, scoring in the decisive penalty shootout with Argentina.

He was bought for a bargain price of £6 million by reigning Champions League winners Porto, as a replacement for Deco who had departed to Barcelona. He made his Champions League debut against the club's old boss when they defeated Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 2-1 in the Autumn of 2004.

His time at Porto was Diego's first real failure, unable to hold down a regular starting spot, and by time Brazil's World Cup 2006 squad came to be announced, he was left out altogether. It was time to move on.

Germany came calling, and the best spell of Diego's career, with Werder Bremen. Bought for just £5 million, three years later his price tag had rocketed to £23 million, or €27 million.

It was an astounding start - two player of the month awards in his first three months, and voted Bundesliga player of the season by supporters, scoring 15 goals. A year later he would up it to 18 goals, impressing in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, and was joined in January 2008 by the signing of a dynamic fellow attacker called Mesut Ozil, a spindly teenager with a keen eye of a pass.

The pair combined for 18 months to dazzling effect, taking Bremen to the 2009 UEFA Cup Final, only for a booking to rule Diego out of the fixture, but they did combine to win the German Cup that season, Ozil assisting him for a memorable goal in the final.

Together the pair had appeared unstoppable, with Diego even recalled to the Brazil squad in mid-2008, and his 21 goals caused Serie A giants Juventus to break the bank for his signature.

And that was when it began to go wrong. Early injuries prevented him from getting off to a fast start as he did in Germany, along with rumours of a fallout with inexperienced boss Ciro Ferrara. His style of play was ill-suited to the football demanded by the fans of the Italian club, and he was sold after just 13 months, at £13.6 million to German club Wolfsburg. Current Juventus manager Antonio Conte revealed he at the time had urged the club not to sign the Brazilian, and move for a winger like Arjen Robben or Theo Walcott instead.

Back in Germany, Diego was hoping to pick up where he left off, but it was not so easy, illustrated by a tally of just six goals in his return.

He was re-signed by Steve McClaren, but the pair famously failed to gel, with the former England manager even fining the Brazilian for missing a penalty.

The attacker's special talents then took a sojourn to Spain, loaned out for the season due to troubles at Wolfsburg, and it was a profitable experience for the player. He gained a semblance of his old form, capped off with a goal in the Europa League Final, but such was competition for places in the squad he did not automatically command a starting place, and Atletico were unable to agree a permanent fee with Wolfsburg, this despite the Brazilian describing his 'special relationship' with boss Diego Simeone recently.

He was unfortunate in that the summer of 2012 was a relatively prudent one for Atletico. They held onto their best players like Falcao, but that also meant there was less cash available to spend. Diego was considered a non-essential luxury and back to Germany he went.

Last season Diego showed signs of getting back to his best. He scored goals into double figures (13) for the first time since leaving for Juventus. Nine assists to add to that too and it was clear he still has much to offer.

The playmaker remains a player blessed with immense talent, and at 28 should be approaching his peak. Mis-management has held him back, as has so often with many a South American playing in Europe. Arsene Wenger is the type of boss who could present one last chance at salvaging his dreams of playing at the top level, along with his Atletico mentor Diego Simeone.

Arsenal are not the only club linked with him. Diego has also been encouraging advances from Atletico, and former club back in Brazil, Santos.

He appears to realise it is time to try a new adventure, and is available on a free transfer next summer, able to control his destiny. He did go onto add that if a club wanted him badly enough, they will pay whatever price Wolfsburg demand in January, who will want to avoid losing him on a free transfer if an amenable solution is found.

While Santos and Atletico clearly hold special connections for the forward, the chance to link back up with Mesut Ozil should be strongly considered too. 

The German helped him play the best football of his career at Werder Bremen, and such is the high standard of Arsenal at present, Diego would be asked to contribute, rather than carry the team. Reuniting alongside Ozil could be the best thing to happen to his career, just like signing the German in the first place was a dream move for Arsene Wenger.

Diego is a wonderful talent, and it would be a shame not to see him fulfil his potential. A switch to North London could avoid that.

image: © funky1opti

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