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SerieAWeekly On January - 24 - 2012

Player Profile: Eduardo Vargas

guest writer/Joel Sked

Substituted at half-time having inadvertently assisted the goal which gave the opposition the lead is not the debut Eduardo Vargas had in mind after making his £11.4m move from Universidad de Chile to Napoli.

In the 20th minute of the last-16 Coppa Italia clash with Cesena ‘Edu’ chased back to the edge of the area to help out defensively when an attempt to control the ball resulted in releasing Stefan Popescu who fired past Antonio Rosati. But it was an incident in the 39th minute that encapsulated his performance. A good move down the left-hand side involving Marek Hamsik and Andrea Dossena allowed the latter to cut the ball back for the lurking Edison Cavani only for Vargas to also read the cut-back and from a less threatening position obstruct Cavani as he was about to pull the trigger.

For anyone that saw Vargas last year will know that it is almost second nature for him to make darting front post runs to meet low crosses or cut-backs from the left. It was a simple case of two players lacking an understanding.

Playing in a less familiar central role, taking turns with Cavani to drift right, he seemed tentative at times as to what movements, runs and link-ups to make while there was little sign of his blistering pace which Cesena marshaled well by sticking close to him when in possession. However he did show neat footwork and an adept first touch. It was not the horror show I expected after reading Twitter before watching the game.

Walter Mazzarri admitted afterwards that he had perhaps got caught up in the euphoria of the signing by handing him his first start, and debut, so soon. In an attempt to take the pressure off his new signing in the short-term he insisted Vargas is an “investment for the future.”

Ezequiel Lavezzi appealed to his fellow team-mates to support the Chilean as he adapts to the rigours of Italian football and takes the time necessary to settle into his new surroundings. With the significant South American contingent within Mazzari’s squad, Vargas, who is a father at the tender age of 22, should successfully see through this settling-in-phase. Having bought a house in nearby Castel Volturno, home to a number of his team-mates, shouldl also help.

But what most Partenopi and other Serie A followers will want to know is the quality he will bring onto the pitch.

Vargas came to his country’s attention as a sprightly 16-year-old in 2005, highlighting his assortment of tricks on the reality show ‘Fútbol 7’ before finishing top scorer in an amateur tournament which alerted the scouts of Calama side Cobreloa. It was in his three years at Los Mineros – the first club of Alexis Sánchez – where he gained his apprenticeship, making his debut aged 17 and receiving valuable Primera División experience.

On the back of playing his part in Chile’s success at the renowned Toulon tournament in 2009 he earned a move to Santiago giants Universidad de Chile. As a squad player in 2010 he helped Gerardo Pelusso’s side reach the semi-finals of South America’s Champions League equivalent, the Copa Liberatadores, where they we knocked out my Mexican side Guadalajara.

The 2010 season was vital step in his development as a player; however he may have not known it at the time, but the appointment of Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli in preparation for the 2011 season was the start of a whirlwind 12 months.

As Sampaoli re-shaped his team, youth was at the forefront of his plans including Vargas who would be positioned on the right of a front three in a fluid 3-4-3 – subtle differences would occur depending on the game. La U would finish second in the Apertura regular season yet win the Play-off Championship defeating rivals Universidad Católica 4-3 in a manic two-legged final. ‘Edu’ contributed ten goals to the Apertura win.

That was just the start. Los Azules had their first ever international trophy in mind in the shape of the Copa Sudamericana (Europa League equivalent minus the league part). Sampaoli had his desired players in his preferred system playing the football he wanted. Similarly to the Chile of Marcelo Bielsa Universidad de Chile were quick and direct, tactically astute, technically superior. They suffocated teams with their incessant pressing and then played through teams with rapid and accurate passing movements and the pace of the forward and wide players. Crucial to both aspects was Vargas, standing at 5′ 9”, who used his unending reserves of energy to close down from the front, forcing the opposition to rush their play and in the attacking third his movement deep, wide and long bamboozled defenders who were petrified of his blistering pace.

La U would leave everyone in their wake racking up a Chilean record of nine straight wins in the league – part of monumental 36 games unbeaten – as they strolled to Clausura success.

If seven league goals was a respectable return it was in the Copa Sudamericana against better quality opposition that Vargas made his mark. A special one at that.

From the first round game against Uruguay’s Fénix to the final versus LDU Quito of Ecuador Eduardo Vargas was the name on everyone’s lips. Chelsea, Manchester City, Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow, Villarreal and Internazionale all had the player watched or showed an interest. The only question is why wasn’t there more?

He hit 11 goals on the way to Copa Sudamericana glory breaking Marcelo Salas’ club record for goals in international tournaments and Humberto Suazo’s record of ten goals in the tournament. His goals were a mixture of clinical finishing, opportunist strikes, intelligent movement and individual brilliance. His goal against LDU in the second-leg of the final was the pick of the bunch, signifying the excitement he provides for fans and fear he creates in the opposition. Dropping deep he picked up a pass from midfield, turned and with the ball at his feet released his after burners, skipping past three players in a flash before cutely clipping the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.

It wasn’t just about the goals from the player of the tournament. He was part of a unit, a team player who was ably supported by Marcelo Díaz, Charles Aránguiz et al. And in turn he supported them. He enjoyed great chemistry with central midfielder Aránguiz as well as creators Díaz and Gustavo Lorenzetti. However it will be his partnership with wing-back Matías Rodríguez that should excite Napoli fans.

Rodríguez covered the right-flank with great quality and application, similar to the way Christian Maggio torments teams with his width and industry. They worked in tandem; Vargas would hold his position wide right until backed up by Rodríguez who would provide width high up the pitch, opening the pitch and creating more space for Vargas to make moves in field to combine with striker Gustavo Canales or the midfielders mentioned, hitting the opposition defence with rapid interchanges in tight spaces. And with even greater quality surrounding him in Maggio, Gokhan Inler, Lavezzi , Cavani and Hamsik he should thrive with the possibility of even better combinations.

Like Sánchez he works well in tight spaces, has an abundance of pace, an ideal player fro pressing high up the pitch and unsettles defences who are often left in a state of confusion whether to stand off and have him run at them or get tight and hope he doesn’t turn you. But he is more akin to Lavezzi, breaking teams with his pace and movement from wide to central areas on either side of the pitch.

Universidad de Chile were desperate to keep him for their run at the Copa Liberatadores but the pull of Europe and following in the foot steps of Marcelo Salas and Alexis Sánchez was too much. The price may be big and the pressure bigger. But the long-term investment may be the fix Napoli need right now to get their Serie A campaign back on track.


You can find Joel at his own blog Chileanfootball

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