Another week in the off-season and another transfer rumor for Orlando City. This time it’s GloboEsporte.com reporting that the Lions have made an offer for Flamengo star attacking midfielder and Brazil international Diego Ribas da Cunha (more commonly known as Diego Ribas, or simply Diego).
This seems unlikely, given Orlando’s current contract, Designated Player, and salary cap situations, but it’s possible if Yoshimar Yotún forces a rumored move to Liga MX side Cruz Azul. It would also be an addition of another older player as Diego is set to turn 34 at the end of February. Also, he’s under contract until July, so Orlando City might have to pay up front to get him or wait until the summer window.
However, with all of that said, The Mane Land has learned that Orlando City is evaluating the possibility of such a move for Diego and whether it would be feasible, though no decision by the club has yet been made.
Per the report, it seems Diego’s preference would be to re-sign with Flamengo and his father apparently visited with club officials to discuss a contract renewal. The native of Ribeirão Preto, Brazil is, after all, nearing the end of his playing career.
“My goal, if it is to renew, is not to be at ease. Being in Flamengo is a challenge. I’m very happy here. The right time will come. I have no reason to look for a club. The proposals have arrived, are official and are on the table, but Flamengo is the priority” - said Diego, before going on vacation in early December.
Discussions have been held, per the GloboEsporte.com report, on an 18-month extension that would keep Diego — one of Flamengo’s highest paid players (Transfermarkt puts his value around $4.5 million) — at the Maracanã Stadium through 2020.
Diego is a prototypical No. 10, and a good passer and facilitator. He’s adept at keeping the ball, finishing, and taking set pieces. He still runs well at age 33, is durable (averaging 78 minutes per appearance this season), and, although right-footed, can play any attacking midfield position. He scored six goals and added three assists in 26 appearances (22 starts) in Brazil’s top flight with Flamengo this season. He has previously played with some of the most historic clubs in Europe, including Porto, Werder Bremen, Juventus, VfL Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, and Fenerbahce. He also has 34 caps with Brazil, scoring four goals for his national team and has appeared in the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
The 5-foot-8 maestro began his professional career in his native Brazil with Santos, as the São Paulo club signed him at age 12. He debuted with the Santos first team at age 16 and won the Campeonato Brasileiro championship that year. He scored 23 goals in 70 appearances with Santos before moving to Porto in Portugal in 2004. The move didn’t work out well for Diego, who scored only four goals in 48 appearances before moving on to Werder Bremen, where his career took off, with 38 goals in 84 appearances.
Diego didn’t fit in well at his next stop with Juventus, scoring just five goals in 33 appearances in 2009-2010 before returning to Germany with Wolfsburg. In four seasons there, he scored 19 goals in 76 appearances, and went on loan in 2011-2012 to Atletico Madrid, scoring three goals in 30 appearances. He moved to Atletico in 2014 for a short stay, scoring once in 13 appearances before then moving on to Fenerbahce, where he produced five goals in 53 matches over two seasons. He ultimately returned to Brazil with Flamengo in 2016.
What It Means for Orlando City
As I stated above, this seems an unlikely move for Orlando to make at this time. Diego would certainly be a DP or high TAM player and there isn’t a current DP slot available with Sacha Kljestan, Dom Dwyer, and Josué Colmán occupying those, along with multiple TAM players — including Yotún. Even if someone is bought down, is there cap room? That seems unlikely, but for argument’s sake, let’s say the club finds a way either through some financial fancy footwork or by selling Yotún.
A player of Diego’s caliber could be exceedingly beneficial for an Orlando City attack that often fizzled in 2018. His passing and set piece prowess would mitigate the potential loss of Yotún and he’s a more natural attacking midfielder than Yoshi is. Serving as the team’s No. 10 would necessitate a new role for Kljestan, but that seems to be happening anyway under James O’Connor. Diego’s age would be a bit concerning but he generally plays “younger” than 33 and he’s managed to avoid major or repeat injuries in his career, even after his 30th birthday. There is, of course, no guarantee that situation will continue.
How likely is this move? I’ll put it at under 50% likely. New Flamengo soccer director Marcos Braz is on record as saying he would like to keep Diego. The player prefers to stay there and may be willing to do so for less money. But there is interest on Orlando’s part, so it could happen. If Flamengo is willing to let Diego walk for free, that would increase Orlando’s chances of landing him. We’ll continue to monitor the situation.
If you’re interested in seeing Diego play in person, you’re in luck. Flamengo is part of the 2019 Florida Cup in Orlando and he’ll be playing at Orlando City Stadium on Jan. 10 against Ajax and on Jan. 12 against Eintracht Frankfurt. But if you can’t make it to OCS, here are some recent skill highlights: