It is less than a month since Bayern Munich parted company with their captain Mark van Bommel, yet the Dutchman's crunching tackles are already a distant memory for the Bundesliga champions.
Luiz Gustavo, a young Brazilian who is little known in his own country, gave an added dimension to Bayern when he played in Van Bommel's old position in front of the defence in Wednesday's Champions League first-leg 1-0 win away to Internazionale, who beat the Germans in last year's final.
He needed only a few minutes of the game at San Siro to show that he shares Van Bommel's knack for getting away with tackles that other players might expect to be booked for. Twice he clattered the Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder with late tackles yet he escaped a yellow card, much to the Dutchman's anger. Sneijder quickly became frustrated, never got into the game and one of Inter's biggest threats had been nullified.
But Gustavo, often used as a left- back rather than a defensive midfielder, showed he has much more than a destructive streak. He had two good attempts on goal in the first 20 minutes and his distribution was superior to Van Bommel's, even if he lacks the Dutchman's leadership qualities.
"Naturally it was a very good Champions League debut for him," said the Bayern coach, Louis van Gaal, who seems one of the few managers bold enough to comment on individual performances. "It was not so easy for him as he often plays on the left side of defence."
Van Bommel, who spent four and a half years at Bayern and was the first non-German to captain the club, left for Milan in January after falling out of favour with the Bavarians.
Many wondered how they would fare without the rugged Dutchman, whose mere presence on the pitch could make opponents apprehensive. Gustavo had arrived less than a month earlier from their Bundesliga rivals Hoffenheim, saying he was ready for anything and that he preferred to play in midfield rather than defence.
His transfer prompted Hoffenheim's coach, Ralf Rangnick, to quit in protest at a decision he said was taken by the club management without his consultation. The 23-year-old is one of a number of Brazilians who have established themselves in Europe without ever being noticed in their own country.
Born near Sao Paulo, he played for two clubs in Brazil's north-east region before signing for Hoffenheim in 2007. He has already said in an interview that he would consider taking out German nationality if offered the chance.
"[I admire the] discipline, punctuality and the way people always behave properly and honestly," he told Bayern shortly after his move. "If you agree something with someone here, it's honoured, whether it's an invitation to dinner or a contract. Unfortunately, it's not like that in Brazil."Reuse content