Full name: Diego Ribas da Cunha
Born: 28 February 1985 in Ribeirao Preto (Brazil)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Clubs: 1997-2004: Santos (Brazil). 2004-2006: Porto. Since 2006: Werder Bremen.
Honours: Brazilian league champion (2002), Copa America winner (2004), Portuguese league champion (2006), Portuguese cup winner (2006). 18 caps for Brazil, 3 goals.
“The 2014 World Cup in Brazil would be the highlight for me”
He may be small in stature, but Werder Bremen’s Brazilian star Diego has a big future ahead of him. Although still only 23, he has already had his fair share of highs and lows. In this interview, Diego talks to FIFA magazine about the Bundesliga and about his hopes and dreams with Brazil.
FM: Diego, in Germany, the country where you have chosen to play your football, the sun is shining, Werder Bremen have turned the corner and you have qualified for the UEFA Champions League after all. What more could a Brazilian want?
Diego: Yes, of course, everything is great. Every team goes through difficult periods, which is when you need to stick together and fight for each other. We did exactly that – we stuck together and we got through the bad times.
You are the star of this Werder side, and I assume that you are settled here because there is such a good team spirit …
Diego: Every player wants to feel at ease in the team and for the team itself to be a close unit. I’m no different. I really appreciate the fact that this team has unbelievable spirit.
Off the pitch you like to avoid the spotlight, whereas on the pitch, you have what I would call a “typical Brazilian approach”. Does that mean that your life in Germany is always full of contrasts?
Diego: It goes without saying that I had to find my feet here and learn some rules, but it never went so far that I lost my Brazilian mentality or my extrovert
Which rules are you referring to in particular?
Diego: Maybe they weren’t rules as such, but rather conditions that you have to get used to when you live here. It took a while for me to get used to the weather, for example. It isn’t a lot of fun to go out here when it is cold because the sky is always grey. But I quickly got used to it, not least because everyone here welcomed me with open arms.
You joined Werder from Porto in the summer of 2006 and you haven’t looked back since. What has the Bundesliga taught you? How have you developed as a player?
Diego: I’m now more disciplined when it comes to tactics and I’ve learnt to react quickly to events on the pitch.
Your time at Porto could hardly be described as a success. What has changed since your move from Portugal to Germany?
Diego: I play in a different position here, and more importantly I know that our coach, Thomas Schaaf, has faith in me. I didn’t have such support in Portugal.
In your opinion, which is the strongest league in Europe? How highly do you rate the Bundesligal
Diego: As far as I’m concerned, the English and Spanish leagues are the strongest, followed by the Italian and then the German. The Bundesliga has developed very quickly and it now has a very good reputation.
A lot of that is down to you. After all, you are one of the players who have taken the Bundesliga to a higher level. Are you proud of that?
Diego: I’m obviously delighted whenever people say that. I also have to say that I really, really enjoy playing in the Bundesliga.. The organisation and structure here is fantastic … it is quite simply a very ague.
If a team has a Brazilian playmaker, everyone expects him to play well in every game. It is no different with you. How do you cope with that pressure?
Diego: I do not go onto the pitch determined to put on a show or to do something special. I only want to help the team win. I am, after all, a team player and not a one-man show. I also want to be able to play my own game and stay true to myself. I know that you cannot always be the best player on the pitch, but if something special does happen on the pitch, maybe a wonderful pass or some crowd-pleasing tricks, well that is even better. But that most certainly is not my main objective.
There is currently huge competition for places in the Brazil team. You have been part of the national team for a while now and you are becoming increasingly important. Are you happy with your current role in the Selecao?
Diego: I am nowhere near where I want to be with the Selecao. I still have a lot to do. I played 90 minutes in both of our last two games, so I was pleased with that. I am also fully aware that you have to be patient with Brazil. But my time will come!
Who would you say are your main rivals for a place in the Brazil team?
Diego: At the moment, I would have to say Ronaldinho and Kaka.
Would you be able to play with both of them?
Diego: Of course it is possible to have more than one creative player in a team, but that obviously depends on the coach’s plan and tactics. We have all played together before, so yes, it is possible in principle.
How important is your shirt number, 10, to you?
Diego: I love having the number 10. Whenever I see that number on my shirt, I get a warm glow inside. It is quite simply the number that I identify the most with.
Who were your idols?
Diego: As a person, my father. And as a footballer, Ronaldo.
You have been close friends with Robinho ever since you were in the Santos youth setup. What is your relationship with him like today?
Diego: We are in regular contact. Actually, we speak every day, so we have a very, very close relationship.
How do you manage that? Are you always on the phone to each other?
Diego: (laughing) Either by telephone or by internet messenger.
How do you cope with the immense pressure of Brazil being expected to win every match and every FIFA World Cup™?
Diego: The team has to be a solid group and stick together. That means that you also have to have the support of the coach and have faith in your team¬mates. That is the best way to deflect criticism from the outside. We have that bond at the moment. Our national team is a close-knit unit just now. Then, of course, you always have to do your best on the pitch and let your football do the talking.
The current coach of the Brazilian team, Carlos Dunga, was a determined, hard-working player. You are more of a creative player. Do those contrasting playing styles ever lead to conflict?
Diego: No, not at all. There are no problems because Dunga is a coach who knows how to use a player’s particular skills for the benefit of the team. Creative players, technicians, hard workers — Dunga always finds the right balance.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa is not far off now. How desperate are you to be there?
Diego: It would, quite simply, be a dream come true for me.
What are the Selecao’s chances of winning their sixth FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa?
Diego: I think that Brazil have a very good chance of winning the World Cup. We will have a very strong team in 2010, I have no doubt about that. Of course it is never easy to win a World Cup. But let’s just say that I am very optimistic!
The World Cup will be held on Brazilian soil in 2014. What does the FIFA World Cup™ mean to your home country?
Diego: Being awarded the right to host the World Cup was incredibly important for Brazil. It was, in a way, our first victory in that World Cup. For Brazil, the tournament will be a huge boost in every respect… for our tourism, our economy, our football and even for Brazilian sport in general. A lot of money will be invested in our infrastructure, something that the entire country will benefit from. It will be a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world that we are a well-organised country and worthy World Cup hosts.
Will the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil be the highlight of your career?
Diego: Yes, it would obviously be the highlight for me. I will be 29 by then and I really hope that I will be there in person for such a wonderful experience.