Author of some of the greatest goals, Juan Manuel Vargas has consistently divided opinion. Many have lauded him as one of the greatest talents Peru have ever created whilst others are determined to label him as nothing more than an inconsistent talent who performs depending on his particular mood.
However, what most agree on is that when the player is indeed ‘in the mood’, he can produce jaw-dropping moments of football that will be spoken about for years – such as that outrageous goal he scored against Boca Juniors during his time with Argentine outfit, Colon. Renowned for his mesmeric handling of the ball, his fine crossing and speed, to truly understand Vargas, you have to understand his past.
Having lived with his grandmother all his life, Vargas grew up playing football in the streets. Surrounded by apathy and accustomed to living with such little money or support, Vargas devoted his time to football but often came close to quitting altogether. That is until he met Cesar Gonzales, the U-20 Coach renowned for his capability to nurture youth and spot excellent talent. Fiercely believing in Vargas’ talent, the player grew dependent on the support offered by his mentor – a dependency that eventually paved the way for an inconsistent career
Having experienced so many failures and successes at such a young age, Vargas grew up torn between his ambition to develop his recognised skill and his desire to give it all up – confusion that led to such varied performances throughout his career. His first club quickly realised his temperamental nature and how it affected his game but Vargas continued to develop, refining his skill at Colon where he improved his free-kicks, his ability to maintain possession and his crossing.
Catania immediately moved for the player and in Sicily, the left-back exploited his physical stature to demonstrate defensive fortitude. But it was his deadly finishing and mobility that attracted Fiorentina and with the Viola we saw the full range of Vargas’s skills.
Struggling with his positioning, liable to lapses in concentration and easily manipulated, Cesare Prandelli eventually realised the player was too unreliable to be deemed a great defender in a country renowned for its tough defences. However, the Peruvian’s marauding runs forward and penchant to hold on to the ball convinced the then Fiorentina Coach to deploy him further forward, in the role of a classic winger – a role he would excel at greatly.
Consistently unlocking defences with his impeccable speed, his eye for a pass and precise crossing proved vital in creating goal-scoring opportunities for Fiorentina who relied on his creativity. A season marred by injury, the player still managed four goals and five assists despite only starting 19 matches last season.
Capable of running the show all by himself as he did against Udinese in May in which he scored a beautiful goal and provided an assist, the match against Juventus earlier in the season demonstrated his ability to contribute to all areas of the pitch. In that game, he carefully marked Milos Krasic to hinder his impact on the game and left Juventus bereft of any creativity.
However whilst he may be capable of delighting onlookers with his unpredictable skill and change of pace, his weaknesses are a cause for concern for big clubs looking to sign on the winger. Limited in certain aspects as he only possesses one extraordinary foot, the most worrying aspect of Vargas’ game is that the notion of a team appears to elude him having been forced to rely on himself for so long. Without the ball, Vargas offers little at times and his positioning yearns for further guidance – not a positive sign should he end up signing for Juventus. Antonio Conte’s tactics are based on the concept of quick passes, with steady movement of the ball between players whilst Vargas prefers vertical movements, seeking thrills as he dribbles all by himself down the flank before delivering that perfectly co-ordinated cross to the middle.
An inconsistent genius, Vargas is a gamble but don’t all investments carry some degree of risk?