Here’s an interview with the Vfl Wolfsburg star Diego Ribas da Cunha. The interview comes from the AZ/WAZ sports editor Andreas Pahlmann. Funnily enough, the actual interview was in English (Diego is remarkably fluent in English and although his German is also good, he has always spoken English or Portuguese when interviewed around Europe). However, the entire interview was published in German and we have therefore translated it back! It’s a really long interview as he shares his thoughts on his youth days, current team, German and Mexican beer, new coach Hecking, Brazilian football and his goals for 2014.
Andreas Pahlmann: Let’s talk. English or German? Diego: English, please.
But your German is pretty good? Well, I understand maybe 60 or 70 percent. But to speak German, I don’t really trust myself.
Your English is far better than the majority of South American footballers. Why is that? Because of my time at FC Porto. I spent a while there and I was on a very intense course.
In Portugal? But there would be no need to speak the language in that country. Yes, but if you want to find your way around in Europe, you should speak English. I was alone on the many trips to the airports, on the road - and English always helps. Also, this has always been the plan that I wanted to make career in Europe.
Language classes part of the career planning? Yes. I always had the dream to stay long in Europe.
Unlike some other Brazilian footballers, you do not come from disadvantaged social background, but in a medium-sized by European standards around your home city of Ribeirão Preto … We were not rich. But my parents were always able to ensure that we were well. And they have always funded and supported me, even in my career.
How did you become a professional? A friend gave me a trial at Santos, so I came to this club - the age of eleven. From there on I took the football very seriously, and have come to understand that this will be more than just fun for me.
Can someone at the age of eleven really understand that? Yes, I think so. I needed the help of my family, the club, but I understood it really early.
To play in your position on the field, you are automatically the heart of your team. Was that the case back then? Yes. I’ve always felt responsible for my team, not just for my own individual performance.
Even as a youth player? Yes, actually it was always like this - a little bit more, sometimes a little less. I’ve always taken responsibility from the first day of my career. I soon got used to the people around me. Making the difference. I’ve never had a problem with it. That might be because I always had good relationship with all my team-mates.
How about your relationship with friends in Brazil at the moment? They have a farm in Ribeirão Preto … Yes, this is where I relax. Since the space is for my friends, we can have a barbecue there, have fun, and also because we have a small football field where I play with friends and family, we call it “mini-stadium” (laughs). There is a friendly family that lives there and looks after everything , also my parents go there regularly. Shortly before Christmas I was last there. But as for Santos, I still have many friends, that’s where my wife comes from - and there’s beach right outside the door.
How did they react when they found out about your team escape in Hoffenheim? Were they surprised? No, not surprised. But sad and disappointed. Because they knew that it made me sad. But my Mother and the entire family have stood by me - which does not mean that they found it right, what I did. But they see me first and foremost as human beings and not as a professional footballer. So they have a different view of things compared to many others.
There was hostility towards you and many negative headlines. They were dealt with very professionally. Has that been difficult for you? Yes, it was very difficult. But when you realize you’ve made a mistake, you have to first forgive yourself in order to keep going. During this time my faith has really helped me. I have great confidence in the fact that God has the right way.
What was the most difficult moment after the Hoffenheim-incident? When I came back from holiday and attended the pre-season in 2011, Felix Magath said to me: You’ll never play with me - and he said this in front of the whole squad. Since it was not easy to motivate myself. I just kept going, trusting that everything will turn for the better.
Did he forgive … When we first decided that we would work together again, we had a good talk, and I looked him in the eye and said: For me it’s okay, I will do my best, I want to work over time. He said: This is nothing against you, this has nothing to do with your performance, I just think that you blocking other players. He was honest, I liked it. For me this is more of an example, that we had no problems with each other.
But Magath was then gone, your benefits grew, the results were better - because it seems reasonable to conclude the problems … No, that can not be seen as real. But I previously had good games that Felix Magath had perceived. After the game at Bayern he came all up to me and said: That was a really good game from you! My mileage was always in the top area, I think I was 7.4 km in the first half against Hannover, which is the league highest point. I was sometimes at 12.5 or 12.8 kilometers in the games, I was motivated, I wanted to do something for the team. But the atmosphere in the team was not right.
Then came the coaching change and the game in Dusseldorf … Afterwards … and it was said: Diego was strong, he has won the game alone, why he has not played before that? It was only just in Dusseldorf and it wasn’t just up to me. The first goal was the most important moment in this game, Bas Dost shoots it, Jan Polak and Ivica Olic were involved, I did not even touched the ball in this attack. After, the self-confidence was there, in all, for me too.
But their form curve increased. If you play more confidently, that’s what happens. And I have just one of a central position on the field, I am often in the attack on the ball, can provide chances or shoot on goal.
You mentioned the atmosphere in the team - it’s true you have small cabins parties? Yes, this is important to us. We get to know each other better, and off the field - and that makes sure that we understand it better on the pitch.
Is it true that you get the drinks? Yes. Some may prefer German beer, the others are more Mexican.
What do you drink? Mexican. I know that the German beer is very good, but to me it is too strong.
Do you prefer to be quiet? The media complain less and discuss less than in your first season at Wolfsburg. Yes, that’s true. We were in a relegation battle, I did not know, I could not even really accept it. I had to learn to deal with it - and learn that I was not alone in this situation. I also learned from it, my attitude has become better.
Is this connected with the quality of the players? I think we play better overall this season, but I can not say that we had at the poorer players. As great guys were there, and look - Dzeko, Grafite, Cicero, Schäfer, Benaglio, etc. But it did not work anyway. This is sometimes the case in football. Football is more than money in the hand and buying the best players. Football is not calculable.
What makes a good team? A good team to be, is not easy. But even harder is a real top team to be. For that we must take the next step, so we have to work a lot.
What about this season? 15th place is not the initial expectation for Wolfsburg … With this team you have to set higher goals, really high - at some point. At the moment we should just talk about the next game, not from the Champions League or Europa League. And in any case we must not be re-located as many points as in the first round.
What is your impression of the new coach? Dieter Hecking has a very sharp ideas for attack. We train very specifically for what he envisions for our offensive and defensive game. I am optimistic that we all play a good second half.
What is your personal goal? You have played internationally with Bremen, Juventus and Atletico Madrid, which got to be your claim. I want to be champion, I want to stand top of the table. And with this team. Of course I want to play again in Europe, but that we need to achieve this as a team - because it does not help when the individual sets any goals.
But do you not miss the European Cup evenings? Well, you know, I do not live so much in the past, but more in the here and now. But I learned from each phase. From being successful to the relegation battle sets situations like that time in Wolfsburg. Everything makes you better for the future.
Future - that is the 2014 World Cup in your home country. What do you think, how many Brazilian footballers will be hoping to same as you, to be in the national team? Oh, many, many. I’m sure that Brazil could make three teams, all three would play in a World Cup in a good role. The country is so big, with so many great players. And people breathe football there.
The Brazilian league is becoming more attractive - thanks to great sponsors, television contracts and financially more profitable. More and more top stars return to the country or remain - such as Neymar - right there. Is it important for the World Cup? Yes, very. A good league is the basis for everything. In terms of organization, we can learn a lot from Europe, but also because there was great progress in recent years. Now we get new stadiums, the conditions suitable for the fans and the players are much better.