Manuel Veth –
On Thursday Pumas fans received good news as the club has brought in Chilean defensive midfielder Marcelo Díaz. The midfielder adds much-needed depth to a side that was threatened to become a one person show.
Pumas UNAM have had a year to forget in Liga MX. A strong start to the 2016-17 Clausura was followed by an epic collapse and failure to make the Liguilla. Coached by Francisco Palencia Pumas also had a difficult start to the 2017-18 Apertura and it has only been thanks to star striker Nicolas Castillo that the team has earned two out of four possible wins.
In fact, it was only thanks to Nico Castillo that Pumas won their matchday 4 match against newly promoted Lobos BUAP. Lobos has had a strong start to their first Liga MX campaign winning two and drawing one. An unfortunate result would have threatened the future of head coach Palencia. But in the end, it was two massive goals by Castillo that earned Universidad the win and saved Palencia’s job once again.
Pumas were in Danger of Becoming a one-man Club
The dependence on Castillo, however, has become more and more apparent in recent weeks. The striker is pretty much the only player on the top level at the club. Furthermore, his consistent scoring rate has meant that clubs from Europe have taken note and without success, it would be difficult for Pumas to hang on to the striker.
What Pumas therefore needed was someone who could bring in stability to the squad, show Castillo that the club cares and also have enough star power to perhaps attract another signing or two to the club. Marcelo Díaz does all of this. The Chilean midfielder is a warrior in midfield whose fine foot is dangerous from set-pieces.
Díaz has not only been a key player in Chile’s successful Copa América victories in 2015 and 2016, but he also has shown at the club level that he can shoulder responsibility. In 2015 Díaz scored the most important goal in the 128-year-history of the German club Hamburger SV.
Hamburg were on the verge of relegation when they were given a free kick in the 91st minute of the game just outside the box. Usually, Rafael van der Vaart was responsible for taking all free kicks, but Díaz walked up to the Dutchman and told him “tomorrow, my friend” took the ball stepped up and scored himself. The goal meant the game went into extra-time where Hamburg scored once again to remain the only club in Germany never to be relegated.
Following the goal against Karlsruhe Díaz was nominated to take part in the Copa América in his native Chile and he participated in all six games and became a member of the team of the tournament. Despite his positive performance at the Copa, however, Hamburg were once again undergoing a rebuild and decided that they no longer required the services of the Chilean midfielder.
Marcelo Díaz is a Proven Leader
It was an odd decision. Marcelo Díaz was the sort of midfield warrior Hamburg needed to rebuild the team and once again become a force in German football. But the club got their wish and Díaz moved onto Spain where he signed for Celta de Vigo in January 2016.
In Spain, Marcelo Díaz had two solid years. At the same time, his performance levels started to drop towards the end of last season. Being left out of the squad on several occasions and with the World Cup looming Díaz decided that he needed regular playing time to not jeopardise his position in the Chilean national team.
As part of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup coverage, the Futbolgrad Network had the opportunity to see Marcelo Díaz live in action on several occasions for the Chilean national team. In general speaking, the Chilean national team appeared to be a team bigger than the sum of all of its part. This is partly down to the fact that the side completely buys into the match plan laid out by head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Another aspect is the fact that the team is full of leadership. The prominent leader of the side is Arturo Vidal, but he is supported by several players like Marcelo Díaz, who have the character to lead the team in difficult situations. It is for that reason that Chile have been successful despite not having one of the most talented teams in World football.
Díaz will now bring this leadership to Pumas, who are in desperate need of direction on the pitch. With Díaz in the squad, Pumas could be able to turn things around this season and therefore hang on to Nico Castillo.
Marcelo Díaz in the meantime joins a growing list of Chilean players in Liga MX. In fact, the Chilean invasion had been a major topic in our Golazo Podcast a few weeks ago. One of the main reasons for the Chilean invasion is that Chileans do very well in this league, which combines attacking football with physical elements. Another reason is the fact that Pizzi is a big fan of Liga MX. Either way, Liga MX and Pumas can look forward to another exciting Chilean in the 2017-18 season.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.