World Cup defeat won't slow Lavezzi
"We lacked efficiency. The decision to bring [Sergio] Aguero on, although [Ezequiel] Lavezzi had enjoyed a great first half, was in order to change our style of play." That was departing Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella's reasoning behind his decision to substitute Paris Saint-Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi at halftime of the World Cup final at the Maracana on Sunday.
It was a match that La Albiceleste would go on to lose in extra time and one in which "El Pocho" had immensely impressed over the first 45 minutes. Despite the outcome though, the 29-year-old's brilliant 2014 continued in Brazil, and his display in Rio de Janeiro means that his stock is once again high after a difficult first season in the French capital.
In fact, his substitution being pinpointed as the Argentines' key tactical error has arguably made Lavezzi more valuable than ever as it emphasised his main qualities.
Prior to the start of 2014, though, the former Napoli man was not even sure of his future at PSG let alone his place in Sabella's World Cup plans. The lightning-fast wide man was struggling to establish himself in the French capital and, with just two goals to his name at the halfway point of last season, he was often overlooked in favour of Brazilian sensation Lucas Moura.
The turn of the year saw a new Lavezzi though, and the South American went on to bag an impressive seven Ligue 1 goals over the second half of the campaign. He also added a number of UEFA Champions League strikes -- notably his stunning early volley in the first leg of the quarterfinal against Chelsea -- as well as another goal in the Coupe de France.
What was all the more impressive about this upturn in form is that it came at a time of incredible emotional turmoil for Lavezzi.
Back in February, just after the Argentine had started to rediscover his best form, his uncle, Jorge, was found murdered in gruesome circumstances after a robbery went awry in Lavezzi's home city of Villa Gobernador Galvez in Rosario. The player, understandably shaken by the news of the death of someone with whom it is said he enjoyed a very close relationship, showed great mental strength and chose to play on instead of returning home.
That experience appears to have galvanised Lavezzi into action because, since then, PSG's No. 22 has often been unplayable. Such was his form during that difficult period, that he forced his way back into La Albiceleste's squad -- despite strong competition in the attacking positions -- and played a key role in their Brazilian campaign.
Lavezzi featured in six of Argentina's seven World Cup games, starting the first as an unused substitute, but was indispensable once it reached the latter stages and he started all four of the fixtures that followed their Group F triumph. Although he did not score during the tournament, the attacker is a whirling dervish of energy and unsettles opponents, which is something he did to brilliant effect in Brazil as both a substitute and a starter.
However, upon returning to PSG after the summer break to build on this good form, Lavezzi might be in for something of a shock.
According to recent reports, the French champions are set to sign his international teammate Angel di Maria from Real Madrid for a fee in the region of 60 million euros. Should that move actually go through, it would almost certainly mean that Lavezzi either has to accept a role on the bench or look for first-team football elsewhere. Considering the year he is having, the PSG man would have no trouble attracting suitors this summer and his club are likely very aware of that fact following recent financial fair play (FFP) sanctions.
While Lavezzi was impressive in front of goal last season, his overall contribution to the team is still questionable.
He is a threat to opponents because of his pace and energy, but the downside of that is that he burns himself out and rarely lasts for more than an hour each match. He also failed to register a single assist in Ligue 1 last season, while positional competitor Lucas -- who did not make Brazil's final World Cup squad -- laid on 10 goals.
There is greater potential in the 21-year-old Brazilian and, because of that, Laurent Blanc is more likely to favour him over Lavezzi in the future as he aims to make PSG more clinical in front of goal.
The best outcome for both parties might be that El Pocho seeks a move away -- possibly back to Serie A -- this summer.
While he is an asset in this sort of form, he is also an ill-affordable luxury player when not on song and his stock may never reach this same level again. Making a profit on the approximately 30 million euro fee spent on him might be difficult, but PSG should be able to recoup the majority of that based on his 2014 showings so far. Cutting Lavezzi loose might also allow Les Parisiens to make one or two new additions elsewhere within FFP restrictions.
While many PSG supporters would be sad to see such a vibrant, entertaining character leave the capital club, there must also be a realisation that the time might now have arrived to cash in on Lavezzi after his World Cup adventure.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.