Vazquez could use Italy call-up to prove success isn't limited to Palermo
Franco Vázquez will become the latest member of Italy's national team if he takes to the field against England in Turin on Tuesday. The Argentinian-born attacking midfielder, whose mother hails from Padua in northern Italy, has enjoyed an excellent season in Serie A with Palermo with seven goals and nine assists and is expected to make his debut off the bench for Antonio Conte's side.
Vázquez was born in Tanti, Córdoba province to an Italian mother and Argentinian father. He grew up in nearby Villa Carlos Paz and played for a local side before moving on to Belgrano de Córdoba in the provincial capital at the age of 16. Nicknamed "El Mudo" (The Mute) due to his shy demeanour, he made his first-team debut at 18, scored his first goal at 20 and then played a key role in the club's promotion to the top flight during the 2010-11 season.
It was in a youth match at Belgrano that Vázquez first came across another promising playmaker from the province with whom his career would later intersect once more. In a fixture against cross-city rivals Talleres, he squared off against midfielder Javier Pastore in a battle for regional supremacy. Vázquez emerged victorious by scoring in a 3-2 win. When Pastore left Palermo for Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, it was Vázquez who was signed to replace him.
Pastore had quickly adapted to European football but Vázquez, who arrived midway through the 2011-12 season following an emotional farewell to Belgrano, struggled to make the same impact. Limited playing time and a loan to Rayo Vallecano followed. It wasn't until the appointment of Giuseppe Iachini as head coach early into last season that he began to shine. Four goals in 18 appearances from January onwards helped Palermo to promotion.
Things have gone even better for the 26-year-old since the club's return to Serie A. He and his fellow Cordobés-born Paulo Dybala have formed an excellent partnership at the head of the attack, with the pair of them contributing half of Palermo's 38 league goals to date. Vazquez has averaged 0.26 goals and 0.33 assists per 90 minutes -- the latter being the best record in Serie A among players who have played for at least two-thirds of the available minutes.
His impressive performances have attracted the attention of many, including Conte. Vázquez declared himself open to representing the country of his mother earlier this year and his first call-up soon followed. His club future remains open, despite the fact that he signed a new contract through to 2019 in January. Palermo's garrulous owner Maurizio Zamparini recently confirmed that there is significant interest in the €20-million-rated schemer.
Vázquez cites former Boca legend Juan Román Riquelme as one of his major influences growing up and with good strength and touch and a left foot capable of both power and precision, there is certainly something of the classic, foot-on-the-ball South American playmaker about him.
Palermo's No. 20 touches the ball more often than any other player on the team, and acts as a conduit between midfield and attack. The club's two most common passing combinations this season have been from Édgar Barreto to Vázquez and from Vázquez on to Dybala. His ability to hold the ball and bring others into play is key to their approach, with he and Dybala having formed an inverted big-man-little-man partnership up front.
- Good strength in possession
- Strikes the ball very well
- Excellent vision
- A little predictable in his movements
Tackling: Ranks low in the Palermo team for both tackles and interceptions, although this is perhaps to be expected given the fact that he and Dybala are the only two attacking players in the regular starting XI. He showed some potential there though by nipping in well to steal the ball from Inter's Nemanja Vidic to open the scoring in the 1-1 draw with the Milan-based club on Sept. 21, 2014.
Marking: He and Dybala do a solid job of closing down from the front and ensuring that opposition teams are unable to bring the ball forward comfortably out of defence.
Heading: He has won just under 40 percent of his aerial duels this season, although he has provided some nice headed layoffs at times. Rarely gets into the area onto the end of crosses, with an average of just one headed attempt on goal for every 10 matches he plays.
Close control: Possesses a solid first touch and the ability to skillfully manipulate the ball in tight spaces, which allied to his strength and a decent burst of acceleration often allows him to turn away from an initial challenge and move forward towards goal. Only Roma's Gervinho attempts and completes more dribbles per 90 minutes in Serie A. Likes to nutmeg opponents when possible.
Passing: His return of nine assists so far this season this season sees him lead Serie A by this measure, although his expected assists total (as per ESPN Stats and Info) of 5.37 suggests that this figure may be slightly inflated by either good finishing or poor goalkeeping. Makes good choices in possession and rarely attempts incisive passes when they are clearly not on. He has excellent awareness of the positioning of his teammates.
Positioning: Generally does a good job of finding space to make himself available to teammates, although he can struggle when teams specifically focus on constricting space between the lines. Usually offers himself with his back to goal instead of moving into the channels or in behind. He does most of his work in the centre and centre-left areas of the attacking half.
Crossing: While he is capable of good deliveries from set-piece situations, the quality of his deliveries is not as consistent as it might be. In open play, his crosses are too often easily cleared. Only one of his assists so far this season has come from a cross.
Finishing: Has shown himself to be an excellent striker of the ball from medium and long-range. He is also capable of precise finishes from in and around the penalty area, while his lobbed goal in the 3-3 draw with Atalanta in December was beautifully executed. Could get more of his efforts on target, but he has also been unfortunate in the number of times he has struck the crossbar: a league-high eight up until the end of February.
What The Experts Say
Former Italian national team coach Marcelo Lippi: "Vázquez is a talent, he has quality. I still haven't quite figured out his true role, but he has the characteristics of [Zinedine] Zidane -- a playmaker, with technique to spare."
Camoranesi, "Franco Vazquez for Juve? He's good, but I think he's missing a bit of aggressiveness to play for Juventus."- Raffaele (@ItalianoCalcio) March 11, 2015
Vázquez enjoys building Lego sets in his spare time. "I've got five of them," he told La Gazzetta della Sport. "A police station. A fire station. The leaning tower of Pisa. One of those articulated lorries that carries cars, and a motorboat. That's the one I enjoyed the most. There were hundreds of pieces."
Vázquez has been one of Serie A's standout players this season but talk of interest from the likes of Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City still seems a little far-fetched. He is doing superbly well in Sicily, but he is fulfilling a very specific function and it is unlikely that any of those clubs would be able to incorporate him as neatly as Iachini has at Palermo.
Tuesday's friendly should, however, provide him with an opportunity to show what he can do outside of the favourable environment he enjoys at club level. In a different system with unfamiliar team-mates, it will be a good test of his adaptability. A strong performance in Turin could even go some way to adding a couple of million Euros to his eventual transfer fee.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.