Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For now, Diego's back where his heart is

Atletico gets midfielder on loan from Wolfsburg, an all-round good move

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Diego RIBAS DA CUNHA never wanted to leave Spain in the first place.

In the summer of 2011 -- just a year after completing a club-record 15.5-million-euro move from Juventus to Wolfsburg -- the enigmatic Brazilian known simply as Diego joined Atletico Madrid on a year's loan.

Behind him was a Bundesliga side where he had clashed with former manager Steve McClaren and whose new boss, Felix Magath, had told the midfielder he was no longer needed. Ahead of him lay a rewarding campaign in which he would play 43 matches in all competitions while helping Atletico to a Europa League triumph.

But it was only a temporary arrangement, and upon his return to Germany he recalled the "magical moments" he had enjoyed in the Spanish capital, describing the experience as a "great pleasure" and admitting he had hoped the club would sign him permanently.

They still haven't, but on Friday the Primera Division co-leaders agreed to another loan for the 28-year-old, with only some formalities to settle with Wolfsburg.

Atletico, it would seem, viewed Diego's discomfort at Volkswagen Arena as an opportunity to boost their title chances, and after the playmaker's contract expires in the spring they'll have the option to negotiate permanent terms.

It's the next few months, however, that they really have in mind.

Going into today's match at home against Real Sociedad (11:45 a.m., beIN Sports Play), Los Colchoneros are level with Barcelona atop La Liga and are looking to defend their Copa del Rey crown while contesting the last 16 of the Champions League.

In other words, manager Diego Simeone was keen to bolster his squad during the January transfer window, and in his namesake he acquires a player with whom he has worked and who gives him a variety of tactical options.

Simeone's fallback formation this season has been the 4-4-2, typically with Tiago and Gabi in the centre of the park. Diego will provide cover for the pair, and he can also take a position on the left from time to time--whenever action-man Arda Turan needs a rest.

But his arrival also provides Simeone the alternative of a 4-2-3-1 setup, or even a 4-4-1-1. Atletico deployed the former against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey midweek, and ideally it would be Diego, and not Raul Garcia, who would play between Adrian and Cristian Rodriguez going forward.

In any event, the variety of looks Simeone can now show an opposition defence has only increased with Diego's presence, and the club's ability to challenge for silverware on multiple fronts will be enhanced as a result.

Wolfsburg, for their part, will clear 1.5 million euros in payments from Atletico for the use of their player, whose wages will also be dumped at Estadio Vicente Calderon. In former Chelsea midfielder Kevin De Bruyne they already have a replacement for Diego, and as a squad-building process continues at the 2009 Bundesliga winners, they may even be better off without the moody Paulista in their ranks.

That said, it's Atletico Madrid who have done the better piece of business with this transaction. Them and, of course, the player who wanted to be with them all along.

Spot kicks

-- West Ham's previously injury-plagued squad is nearly back to full fitness, and the club have also used the January transfer window to aid in their battle against relegation. Defenders Roger Johnson and Pablo Armero, midfielders Antonio Nocerino and Abdul Razak and striker Marco Borriello were all added before the end of the winter registration period and will leave manager Sam Allardyce with few excuses should he fail to get some quick results.

-- Another highlight from Transfer Deadline Day was Arsenal's loan acquisition of Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom from Spartak Moscow. In the 31-year-old the Gunners get an experienced player who will cover for the likes of oft-injured midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, while dropping Mathieu Flamini down the pecking order.

-- Monaco's reaction to losing top scorer Radamel Falcao for the rest of the season was to seal a loan move for Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov. The 33-year-old Bulgarian has so far scored five goals this season but twice eclipsed the 20-goal mark with Tottenham Hotspur.

Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2014 B12

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