Less than a year ago, at the tender age of 23, many Brazilian football observers had already labelled Diego Tardelli a faded talent - just one of the innumerable players who burst on to the scene amid considerable hype but fail to fulfill their enormous potential.
Indeed, after joining Atletico Mineiro in from Flamengo in January, many scoffed when the forward vowed to challenge at the top of the forthcoming campaign's scoring chart and push for a spot in the senior Brazil squad. But what a difference a few months and a change of scenery can make.
Having finished as the leading marksman in the Campeonato Mineiro at the start of the year, in which O Galo finished runners-up to Cruzeiro, Diego Tardelli has been inspirational in Atletico's fine start to the Brasileirao. And the icing on the cake of the now 24-year-old's return to grace was a call-up to Dunga's Seleção for the friendly in Estonia on 12 August.
An automatic starter for Brazil during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005, Diego Tardelli was, at the time, considered a virtual shoe-in to make the jump to the senior national team. The fact that it has taken four years, and that the player himself neglected to even listen out for the squad announcement for the game, underlines just how far his star had waned.
"I knew the squad list was due, but by the time it was announced it had slipped my mind," he explained. "It didn't even occur to me that I'd be called up. On the way to training (Atletico president) Alexandre Kalil called to say that I might have been called up, but not to get my hopes up because he wasn't sure yet. Five minutes later he rang to confirm and I started getting loads of calls. It was a great feeling!"
While being named in the Brazil squad for the first time is a huge feat in itself, Diego Tardelli's achievement is even more significant given Brazil's superb recent form in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying and victory at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.
"It's not about not trusting the other forwards. Tardelli's been playing well for a while now and he's matured. We have to give players like that a chance," said Dunga, a coach renowned for keeping faith in his established performers. In fact, the former midfielder made just two changes to the group that triumphed in South Africa 2009, bringing in Marcelo (Real Madrid) for Kleber (Internacional) and Diego Tardelli for Alexandre Pato (AC Milan).
"All this is extraordinary, but I'm taking it one step at a time, just like I did at Atletico," said the man of the moment. "I know that I've got to go about earning my place, bit by bit."
Marriage of convenience
It would be hard to say whether Diego Tardelli breaking into the international set-up means more to the player or his club. O Galo's passionate supporters have grown used to their team being out of the running for major honours, even enduring relegation to the second tier in 2005. Therefore, if the player does become the first Atletico star to pull on the canary-yellow jersey since Gilberto Silva in 2002, it would be undisputed proof they are back among the best.
Tardelli, for his part, is in the most prolific form of his professional career. Having flickered his brilliance in Sao Paulo's Copa Libertadores-winning side in 2005, he earned a reputation as something of a wild child, a tag which followed him to Real Betis in Spain. After failing to impress in La Liga, mixed spells followed with Sao Caetano, Dutch giants PSV, O Tricolor Paulista again and last year at Flamengo before his 2009 renaissance.
Written off by many as incurably inconsistent, former Brazil coach Emerson Leao, who had Diego Tardelli under his wing at Sao Paulo and Sao Caetano, requested he be signed for Atletico. As the player himself recognised, his recent success would not have been possible without the former goalkeeper's faith and the support of everyone at O Galo: "All I can do is thank Leao and the club. They've given me the chance to show what I can do."