Arturo Vidal has long been one of my favorite players. When he snubbed Bayern Munich to join Juventus I was upset. Then as he grew into one of the most potent midfield forces on the planet, I was both simultaneously happy to see it happen and sad that it didn't happen in a Bayern uniform.
Fast forward to this summer and it finally happened. Vidal joined Bayern as Bastian Schweinsteiger made his long-time dream of playing for Manchester United a reality. In many ways it was a symbolic changing of the guard. Out with a player who was the best and in with a player fresh off leading his club to the Champions League final and his nation to victory in the Copa America.
Vidal's first couple matches hinted at the promise he could bestow on this Bayern side. Tenacious on the ball, ferocious in defense, he was every bit the dynamic two-way player Bayern Munich had seemed to be really missing the last two years.
Since that point it's been all downhill.
He's never seemed to fit into games and his link up play with teammates has been suspect at best. His best contributions come from individual moments of magic and for a player who's built a career off being the bulldog that his teammates build a foundation on, it's a stark contrast. I keep going through his game statistics hoping to find some reason or something I can point to show a change in role or fitness or injury -- literally anything.
Except there's nothing different.
His defensive actions are at the same rate as the rest of his career. His passing accuracy and touch haven't changed nor have any of his offensive indicators. For all intents and purposes, there is nothing in the discrete numbers that point towards Vidal being that different of a player. The disconnect is tactically prevalent though and the isolation between him and his teammates is very apparent. It's almost as if he's never progressed beyond the newcomer stage.
The juxtaposition that was on display Saturday in this regard was maddening. The intense physical battle Vidal put up against Stefan Kießling and the way this opened space for Joshua Kimmich and Holger Badstuber to isolate Chicharito was fun to watch. It was a physical effort that allowed Bayern to really limit what Leverkusen could do in linking play between a midfield that had Bayern's number all game and their star striker. On the other side of play: almost nothing.
It's maddening to see that from a player so skillful and not see any actual indication of why. It's not uncommon for new player to have to spend months learning their roles. It took Robert Lewandowski nearly seven months before he caught fire with Bayern Munich. But that type of thing is to be expected from a striker where the vagaries of how individual players move, attack, and which runs they make cause dramatic changes in results. The same is not true of a box-to-box midfielder and especially for the kind of player where team structures are built around him.
Then I remember those first few matches Vidal played with Bayern and the authority with which he stamped himself on the game. He was every bit the player I expected. Then I remember the decline since then and what we saw on Saturday. It's maddening and at this point I don't know whether I want a player that I've loved watching for years to play on the team I support.