On Sunday evening, a player who spent much of last season as a figure of ridicule in the British press and, it must be said, among his own fans, will likely take his place in the World Cup final.
It’s the pinnacle of any player’s career, but for Argentina defender Martin Demichelis, it will be extra sweet given the way he was labelled a flop during the early part of his first season at Manchester City.
He signed from Atletico Madrid last summer, a short-term option for Manuel Pellegrini who knew him well from their time together at Malaga.
With City unable to sign a young defender comfortable in possession—a key element of Pellegrini’s vision for City’s style of play—Demichelis was targeted to provide ball-playing ability from the back.
But before he had even kicked a ball for the club, he suffered a knee injury, keeping him out of City’s first 12 games of the season. He made his debut in difficult circumstances, a 2-1 defeat away at Chelsea, and immediately the knives were out. Demichelis, they said, was a disaster waiting to happen.
Two moments of poor decision-making—his red card against Barcelona and his rash tackle on Marc-Antoine Fortune in the FA Cup quarter-final against Wigan—heightened the antipathy toward the Argentinian. The tabloid press, in particular, had taken an extreme dislike to the defender, willfully ignoring his qualities and focusing solely on any error he made.
He’s an easy target for the media. At 33, his pace has deserted him, and his mobility appears laboured. Against quick forwards who like to play on the shoulder of the last defender and look to get in behind, he can sometimes struggle, with pace in the Premier League now seen as a pre-requisite to success.
Credit to Pellegrini, though. He stuck by his under-fire defender and reaped the rewards. In the final months of the season, with City’s title chances looking somewhat under threat, Demichelis emerged as a star of the City team.
The turning point appeared to be the away win at Hull. With City down to 10 men early on after the dismissal of Vincent Kompany, it looked likely they would slip to defeat, but a hugely important 2-0 was secured.
Demichelis was superb, orchestrating the back four and producing a series of wonderfully timed tackles, headers and interceptions, a performance that proved to be the catalyst for further excellence.
Other than David Silva, whose switch to the No. 10 role saw his influence increase dramatically, Demichelis was City’s best player in the final two months of the season—vital in helping the club reclaim the Premier League crown they had surrendered so meekly just 12 months earlier.
And to cap it all, he received a call-up to Argentina’s World Cup squad, and although he didn’t play in their first four matches, he has emerged as a key player in their quarter-final and semi-final victories.
His reading of the game and aerial ability, the attributes that saw him turn the tide of public opinion toward the end of the domestic campaign, have been on full show once again. This time he has displayed his qualities on the highest stage possible, and he will have a good chance of starting Sunday’s final against Germany.
Shorn of his distinctive ponytail, he has tightened up what appeared to be a slightly creaky Argentinian defence after replacing Federico Fernandez, and it’s likely his club manager has been watching with a wry smile etched across his face.
Pellegrini’s wisdom was seriously questioned by those who failed to see the qualities Demichelis brought to City this season, but even his fiercest critics have surely now accepted they were wrong.
It would be a poetic finale to a season that started with ridicule.
Demichelis, regardless of Sunday’s result, has had the last laugh. A Premier League title, a League Cup and a key role in Argentina’s run to the World Cup final represents a fine season for a man seen as a serious liability in March.
It’s been one of the most remarkable turnarounds in fortune witnessed in recent years.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.