Talent Scout: Nicolás Gaitán, Benfica
Saturday 26 November 2011
It's Europe's elite club competition, and the home of an intriguing variety of sumptuous attacking football, played out by 32 of the continents best teams. It's the UEFA Champions League, and it's approaching its business end.
As such, the chief orchestrator's of creative magic are in full swing, and starting to take their rightful place of center stage. But forget Cristiano Ronaldo , Andrés Iniesta , Xavi , David Silva or Wesley Sneijder, it's an exciting Argentine who has put them all to shame so far this term. No, not Barcelona's Lionel Messi , but 23-year-old rising Benfica star Nicolás Gaitán, the Champions League's leading goal provider.
It's a run of form that has topped off a crucial two years for Gaitán , who has overcome the weight of expectancy to deliver on the big stage, and with it, catch the eye of a number of interested parties.
But attention is nothing new - Gaitán has been recognised a player with unrivalled potential since 2008, when he made his debut for Boca Juniors against Arsenal de Sarandi , en route to helping them to another league title.
He found it difficult to make the central attacking berth his own that year, earning the nickname 'El Zurdo', or 'the left hander' after switching out wide. It proved to be a success, and the following season, he got a break through, scoring seven goals and claiming six assists in 31 matches, leading to a £7 million move to Benfica.
It was a whirlwind deal, and came shortly after compatriot Ángel di María had finalised his switch to Real Madrid. This led to talk of Gaitán being the replacement, and in a way, he was. The 23-year-old fit Benfica's flair philosophy, and although he'd began to play more centrally for Boca, filled di María's left flank void with real quality.
This term, Gaitán has stepped his game up once again, operating more on the right, and scoring goals like his delicious curling effort Trabzonsporin the Champions League qualifying rounds, before providing the ammunition to help fire Benfica top of Group C, above Manchester United.
The reasons why he's such a danger are obvious. Gaitán is a fascinating mix of a player with South American technique and style, slowing adapting to the rigours of European tactical discipline. A left footer playing on the right, he's learnt to master the football over the years, boasting exceptional dribbling accuracy and close control, while using a mixture of good movement and upper-body strength to beat defenders, even in tight situations.
But the true evidence of Gaitán's mastery with the ball is not his dribbling, but his distribution . He's got an excellent range of accurate crossing from either flank, and while he sometimes lacks urgency in releasing the ball, he has the vision to pick holes when cutting inside.
That's the South American flair, but it's the European game he must work on. Gaitán has great work ethics, but lacks concentration at times and offers varying degrees of protection to his full back. At five foot eight, he's not a bad size, but doesn't like to get involved in the physical defensive side of the game, lacking any real aggression.
Overall, Gaitán is a joy with the ball at his feet. A high speed dribbler with lots of trickery, quick feet and a lovely change of direction, he has an accurate range of crossing from wide areas, and good movement and composure in the box. If he improve his concentration and positionaldiscipline without the ball, then it won't be long before Europe's leading lights eye up his £38 million buy out clause.
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