After years spent being one of South America's biggest underachievers, Chilean football is finally on the rise. Leading the charge are a wave of exciting but functional midfielders and forwards, including Arturo Vidal, Mary Medel, Matías Fernández and, of course, Barcelona star Alexis Sánchez.
Yet amid all of the talent blessing the La Roja selectors, finding a quality striker to fit with the aforementioned artistry has proved a challenge. Humberto Suazo has been chief goal getter in recent years, but as Chile start to look beyond his one-dimensional approach, 21-year-old Eduardo Vargas has emerged as a genuine alternative, following a remarkable 12 months for perhaps the most successful club side in the country's history.
Vargas completed 2011 with 25 goals and 11 assists from 44 matches, as Universidad de Chile completed an unprecedented Apertura , Clausura and Copa Sudamericana treble. That's big stuff. So big in fact , it prompted the usually reserved Napoli to splash out £11m on his signature earlier this month, ending a lengthy pursuit.
The big tests will come thick and fast now for Vargas, who comes with an impressive footballing education. Born in the Chilean capital Santiago, he was eventually signed by Cobreloa as a teenager, after a number of trial stints. The club have an impressive record of developing and trusting talent, and promoted Vargas to the first-team at 16, convinced he could be a potential gem. They were right.
A switch to Universidad de Chile followed after three seasons, 10 goals and more than 50 appearances , with a reputation as a hugely promising, but very raw, young forward. Vargas thrives when around better players, and ramped up his development with Universidad , quickly establishing himself as dangerous striker, who could be effective in the wide areas.
But it wasn't until 2011 when Vargas really showed the benefits of being at a bigger club. He seemed to relish the fight for trophies like a seasoned professional, and summed that up by delivering a number of big game performances. First, he fired La U to their first international title, the Copa Sudamericana , by scoring twice in the final, and claiming the player and all time top scorer awards, having scored 11 goals en route.
He then, in his final game before switching to Napoli , scored in the 3-0 Clausura final win over former club Cobreloa , to bring to a close a stunning year. The boy has boundless potential, but key to fulfilling it, is how he is deployed in Europe.
Vargas is, essentially, an easy player to describe. At five foot seven inches tall but with a stocky frame, he's a diminutive figure with bags of heart and spirit, who relies on his pace and trickery to get him out of trouble. That sounds simple enough, but delve deeper, and Vargas is a complex talent who delicately blends his abilities into an exciting, but unpredictable mix.
The 21-year-old is a classic finisher, thriving on playing on the shoulder of a defender, or poaching in the box, where he uses his blistering speed, great technique and superb mobility to carve out the space his physique can't help him find. Yet Vargas can make his own chances too, being dangerous collecting the ball deep and attacking a back line, where he is incredibly direct, has exceptional close control and a box of tricks, all designed to isolate individuals, and work openings.
Vargas's desire to run directly at a back line is also fruitful for his team-mates, allowing space to be created, meaning deep lying midfield play-makers can get forward and into the box with good effect, shown by his 11 assists last term.
He has some bits to touch up on, mostly in and around the box. Vargas generally has good composure and can find a finish from lots of angles, but has an over reliance on using his right foot, and subsequently seems to panic when a chance falls on his left, or occasionally on his head. On top of that, Vargas also needs to work more on his general creativity, and understand the need to hold the ball and build moves more efficiently .
Overall, Vargas is still raw and improving, but the signs are there that he could be a top player in coming seasons. Fast, skillful, mobile and direct, he is a real handful for any defender, and although lacks a physical presence, makes up for it with great work ethics and real hunger for the game. He can score goals, make goals and be moulded into different roles easily, and that's an option Chile haven't had up front for a little while.