Argentina, Boxing Day 2009. A Peugeot 307 speeds along an Argentine highway late at night. Suddenly, the car veers off and hits a tree. 3 people are killed. The driver, a small 21-year old is pulled out alive, conscious, but severely injured...
Make a list of players from the top of your head whom you think can be considered the 'next Messi', or Ronaldo, or Maradona... Whatever. Think of a few players who are really special, who scream skill and talent. Any names yet? Well I'm willing to bet you've probably thought of someone like Neymar. Maybe Hazard? Pastore? Eriksen? Heck maybe even Jack Wilshere?
The man I'm talking about is Diego Buonanotte.
(Buonanotte) has fractured his right humerus, right clavicle and has bruised his right lung. Eduardo Allegrini, Hospital Director
Not too long ago, Diego Buonanotte was a young man whose exploits on the pitch were taking the world by storm. Making his professional debut at the minuscule age of 17 years, he quickly established himself as a regular at River Plate, proving to be an instrumental member of the Los Millonarios squad.
His tiny height of 5 ft 3' (and in order to get an idea of how short that is, Lionel Messi is 5ft 7') was a product of nature that most would feel hard done by. However, El Enano, or The Dwarf, didn't allow this to be a detriment to his game. Far from that, he made up for his lack in stature with amazing skills and technique, dribbling past opponents effortlessly, and doing all that whilst maintaining a keen eye for goal (he was River Plate's top scorer in the Torneo Clausura stage of the 2007-08 Argentine Primera Liga).
His superb performances for River Plate earned him a call up to the Argentinean Olympic team for the 2008 Beijing Games. Somewhat unfortunately for him, he only managed to appear in a solitary game; against Serbia. However, he marked his sole appearance in style, scoring an amazing freekick. Buonanotte and his compatriots would walk away with the gold medal. Meanwhile, El Enano's performances were beginning to draw comparisons with the great Argentine; Diego Maradona, the man whom almost every young Argentinean wishes to emulate.
The comparisons were far from being without reason. Not only did all the skills and trickery remind many of the young Maradona, but so did his tiny height. It was as though God had created the Argentine legend's successor as perfect as possible.
Even his name was Diego as well for crying out loud.
One dreadful accident would alter everything, unfortunately...
Diego told us he lost control of the car. Guillermo Fernández, Fireman
Now right now I can probably hear you asking what this has to do with Sunderland at all. Indeed, I haven't even mentioned England or the Premier League once. Buonanotte now plies his trade in La Liga for the curious case of Malaga, and unfortunately, he hasn't exactly forced his way into Manuel Pellegrini's plans, at least for the moment.
Well, this is why the team you (probably) and I love is concerned. In November 2009, rumours began spreading regarding the young star and a possible move to Wearside. Yes, you read that correctly. The world's next big thing... Moving to Wearside??? Surely not!
Reports however claimed Steve Bruce was intent on signing more South American talent, having just completed the signing of Paraguayan star, Paulo Da Silva. And yes, we all know that was the signing of the century.
The rumours had begun to spring up in November, continuing deep into December, when the crash occurred. Up until then, there was still every chance of the Argentinean making the move when the January transfer window opened. Fate would have other ideas of course.
Now, let's assume this had a lot more substance to say, well, the rumour of Fernando Llorente moving to Sunderland. Let's just imagine that fateful accident had never occurred. Now then, let us just imagine for just a short while, that Diego Buonanotte had completed his move to Sunderland, that he was wearing beautiful red and white shirts tailored by Umbro with nice pretty Boylesports stickers on the front.
The question now is this; just what sort of impact would he have made? Let's travel back in time, to say... January 2010.
Sunderland are flying high in 10th. Well, that's pretty high considering the team's been flirting with the relegation zone for the past 2 seasons. And anyhow, being in the top 10 is nice. Darren Bent has proven to be a worthy contender for signing of the season, with 13 goals up to that point, his partnership with Kenwyne Jones reaping some healthy rewards.
This lad Craig Gordon is playing a lot too...
Diego Buonanotte has just joined from River Plate, for around ten million quid. Steve Bruce is hailed on Wearside for completing one of the transfers of the club's history. Yes, I actually said that
Finding Him A Place In The Squad
Buonanotte is usually played as a centre attacking midfielder or as a second striker, similar to what Maradona was. However, he does possess the ability to play on the left wing. Considering Steve Bruce was utilizing a pretty standard 4-4-2 formation at the time, and also taking into account he's not a man who screams tactical intuition, with Jones and Bent up front, it is very unlikely he would have bothered switching to, say, a 3-5-2 with Buonanotte behind the two strikers, or even a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1, sacrificing most likely Jones just to play the young star. So it's pretty much a given that Buonanotte would have played as a left winger. Steed Malbranque would most probably have been his equivalent on the opposite flank.
Assessing His Possible Impact
Sunderland in the 2009-10 season was a direct team with very little if anything unusual tactically. It was your typical English team, using a direct approach moving forward. The team also possessed a lot of physical strength and aggression. Reading the names 'Cana' and 'Jones' immediately make you think of physical power. Reading the names 'Bardsley' and 'Cattermole' make you think of aggressive players who will give their all, and on more than one occasion, overdo it. This is pre-O'Neill Lee Cattermole, just to remind you.
Now you've suddenly added a flair player to what is otherwise a pretty stale and boring team. Lest we forget, this was someone who was on a real high, one of the biggest young stars in world football. The psychological impact that must have had not only on the fans, but on the team cannot be undervalued.
I think the impact he would have made would be similar to what Raheem Sterling has done for Liverpool. A breath of fresh air to a creaking ship. Assume the transfer was completed after THAT 7-2 mauling at the hands of Chelsea. The spark Buonanotte would have provided the team would probably have been huge.
After Chelsea were all very winnable games in Everton, Stoke, Wigan and Portsmouth. In 'real life' Sunderland earned only 3 points. Assume the little Argentinean maestro was there. That almost looks like an automatic 10 points (because, let's face it, we're NEVER beating Everton. At least not in my lifetime).
After that short run of games was a game against Arsenal at the Emirates. That I admit would have been a draw at best. Ok, let's take a draw. Then came a string of games at the Stadium of Light against Fulham, Bolton, Man City and Birmingham. In reality, the Mackems gained 8 points. An on form and fired up Sunderland team could easily have taken all 12.
At the end of the 2009-10 season, Sunderland could have ended up with an excess of 60 points, though probably not enough for a Europa League spot. All the factors of this, had it happened, must be taken into account. The monetary difference between finishing 13th and in 6th-8th is huge, the extra TV coverage and the possibility of European nights would have done so much to helping find a sponsor with bags of money and improving club prestige. Maybe that scumbag Darren Bent wouldn't have left? (Then again... Nah)
2010-11 And Beyond
Now all this makes for a very interesting alternate 2010-11 season. I do not think there would have been any new signings, apart from those that took place in the reality. So Jones has left for Stoke, but I'm willing to bet Cana stays. I think we can all agree Lorik Cana had a big effect on the team, and him staying would definitely have helped the team in so many ways.
With Jones gone, I believe the switch to 4-2-3-1 would have gone ahead as it did in reality. This poses an interesting question as to whether Bruce would have moved Buonanotte to his stronger position in the hole, or kept him on the left. I'm willing to bet he would have moved him to the central position, slotting in behind most probably Bent or Gyan. Taking his place on the left would have been either Welbeck, Malbranque or Zenden. My choice here would be Zenden for the cups and Steed for the league, with Welbeck just allowing for some rotation while still being maintained as a striking option.
All in all, I think the most used starting XI would have looked something like this; Mignolet, Onuoha, Bramble, Turner, Richardson as the defence, Cana and Henderson in the central midfield positions, Zenden on the left wing and (somewhat unfortunately, though he wasn't so bad that season) Elmohamady on the right, with Buonanotte behind Bent.
On paper, that defence looks weak. Mignolet was a completely nobody at the time, Onuoha had shown promise but had become a City reject with their expensive project taking place, Bramble and Turner could be utterly disastrous and Richardson was still getting used to his 'new' position. Onuoha is however, a very decent fullback. Both Bramble and Turner are, on their days, excellent defenders, and as we saw in 'our reality', Richardson eventually matured into a good left-back.
The midfield is where everything starts to take place. Cana as the holding midfielder is pretty frightening, and then you have the bright new star in Jordan Henderson, where he belongs in centre-midfield. Zenden is a solid choice on the left, while Elmohamady would provide lots of speed and running on the right... Lots and lots of speed and running...
Then of course the front two. That's Europa League standard without a doubt. Buonanotte, had he been given freedom to roam, would have wreaked total havoc on most defences, in my humble opinion. Add the winter signings of Muntari on loan and Stephane Sessegnon, and this is actually a very very decent squad you have in place.
Results-wise, I will not go in depth, otherwise this article will rage on to possibly 5000 words. Top six in the league would definitely have been possible. A cup final would have been a possibility as well.
BUT. And this is a big but. Would 2011-12 turned up any different? I think not. Because in my opinion, all of the team's stars would have been sold, just as they were in real life. Buonanotte probably would have been sold to a La Liga club for an Andy Carroll-type pricetag. Henderson would have ended up at Liverpool most likely, and if Bent was still around... He'd be gone too.
You would still have seen Mr Bruce splash 6 million pounds for Craig Gardner, sign Ahmed Elmohamady permanently, sign the aging Wes Brown and John O'Shea and bring in Connor Wickham for 12 million quid. There may have possibly been 1 or 2 more 'interesting' signings, but quite honestly I think that dreadful start to the season is fate, a fixed point in time. It'll happen no matter what you try to do in order to alter it.
In fact, I think this would have ended up as Peter Reid Sunderland, Mk II. Finishing just outside a European spot two easons a row, before just falling apart. I guess it just ain't meant to be.
Well, at least we would have gotten Martin O'Neill who at least burned cash, well... Efficiently.
Back To Reality
Am I overstating things in a massive way? I probably am. Could Diego Buonanotte have been a flop had he made the move? Definitely. But the beauty of things that never happen is you can shape them the way you want it to be in your head. I personally will always believe that had Buonanotte joined Sunderland, he would have improved the team greatly, and I will always believe that Steve Bruce was always destined to fail.
I'll leave it here for you guys to draw your own conclusions. 'What if' questions are always great ones to answer, especially if you're as lifeless as me!
I'll end it by saying best of luck to Buonanotte on getting his career back on track. Because after everything he's been through, he deserves a bit of a break.