Cologne - The fact that he is SV Werder Bremen’s top scorer with six goals, despite having been out injured since Matchday 11, is the clearest evidence of how big an impression Franco Di Santo has left on the Bundesliga season so far.
The former Chelsea FC man has, in spite of an enforced and lengthy absence, played a major part in Bremen’s recent resurgence after a troubling start to the campaign, but it’s not just his goalscoring that has made headlines in the 2014/15 Hinrunde.
The 25-year-old Argentine is forging a reputation for being one of the division’s most likeable players. From his trademark dancing goal celebration to constantly laughing and joking among his team-mates, Di Santo is clearly loving life at Bremen. His jovial demeanour also brings back memories of how another South American striker brought such joy to the Werder faithful not so long ago.
Claudio Pizarro scored 89 goals in 159 Bundesliga appearances for the Green-Whites and was a team-mate of Di Santo’s at Chelsea during the 2007/08 campaign. Although the Peruvian spent just a single season in London, Pizarro and Di Santo became firm friends, and it is down in no small part to ‘Pizza’ that Di Santo chose Bremen when he was out of contract in the summer of 2013. “I’m happy he recommended Werder to me!” recalls Di Santo.
Catalyst for the turnaround
At the beginning of the current season, Di Santo’s form was perhaps the only bright spark in a series of games that had Werder sinking fast. A home loss to 1. FC Köln left the club winless and bottom of the table, spelling the end for Robin Dutt as head coach. Viktor Skripnik was installed as his replacement, with the former Bremen defender taking charge of his first game away at Chemnitzer FC in the DFB Cup. Cue a comfortable 2-0 victory inspired by a Di Santo goal to get the new era under way, followed by a first season win in the league away at 1. FSV Mainz 05 four days later.
Again, Di Santo was the catalyst, converting a penalty to bring his team level at the Coface Arena, before executing a quite wonderful chip to score the decisive goal in a 2-1 success, winning bundesliga.com’s Goal of the Week award in the process. That was his final contribution of the season so far on account of a knee injury, with die Grün-Weißen finishing 2014 in 16th place following Matchday 17’s 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund.
Proof that practice makes perfect
Di Santo is set to return for Bremen against Hertha Berlin when the league season resumes at the end of the month, and he will be hoping that 2015 follows a similar trajectory to 2014. Indeed, it was only really in the second half of last season that he began to realise his potential at the Weserstadion after a red card on his home debut and just one solitary goal in the 2013/14 Hinrunde.
As was the case at his previous clubs, particularly Wigan Athletic FC, whom he represented between 2010 and 2013 and helped win the English FA Cup, he has found his feet and his form gradually at Bremen, but is now a thoroughbred striker who looks tailor-made for the rigours of the Bundesliga. The Hertha defence could be in for a very busy afternoon on 1 February.