As Eduardo Vargas slalomed his way past three LDU Quito challenges and slotted home last night, the whole of Europe sat up to take notice.
The Chilean striker dubbed the ‘new Alexis Sanchez’ scored his 11th goal of this season’s Copa Sudamericana last night as Universidad de Chile swept past Ecuadorian giants LDU Quito.
The feat is a new record for the competition and is richly deserved for the forward, who has been linked with a European giants such as Chelsea and Inter Milan already.
His performance last night summed up exactly why Inter manager Claudio Ranieri has publicly stated his admiration for Chile’s hottest new prospect. He opened the scoring for La U after just two minutes last night, touching the ball on three separate occasions in the build-up before a deflected cross fell into his path and he rifled home a left-footed volley, whilst leaning back, to add to the solitary goal he had scored in the first leg of this final.
He was involved in everything good that Universidad did last night and played a part in the second goal too. After playing a neat one-two on the edge of the LDU box, Vargas fired a shot at the near post from a tight angle that was too strong for the ‘keeper to hold and the rebound fell to Gustavo Lorenzetti who slotted home. However, his best contribution was yet to come.
In the 86th minute, Vargas received the ball just inside the opposition half. Not once did he look up for a team-mate, his only intention was to score. He got his head down and accelerated past his midfield tracker, skipped past the onrushing defender and then rounded the remaining defender to leave him one-on-one where he lofted the ball into the far top corner to add the icing to the La U victory.
That goal sealed his place in Sudamericana history and sealed his award, given to him by Chilean legend Marcelo Salas, as the player of the tournament; there could be no doubt.
A lot of praise for Vargas’ emergence must go down to his coach, Jorge Sampaoli. The Argentine manager couldn’t get a break in his homeland and after a spell with Emelec in Ecuador, he was handed the job as La U manager this season. He brought with him a Marcelo Bielsa inspired 3-4-3 system where the forwards interchange on a regular basis (as they also do at Barcelona), and this has allowed Vargas to come inf rom the flank and have shots at goal.A winger with pace and skill, it is easy to see why people would compare him to his compatriot at Barcelona, but Vargas is different to Alexis in that he scores more goals and gets involved a lot more centrally than Sanchez would.
Liverpool have also been rumoured to have checked out Vargas, whilst Napoli’s South American scouting system has found them the gems of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani (via Palermo) and Walter Gargano and has also listed Vargas as a target. The financial muscle of Russian giants Zenit St. Petersberg has also seen them linked.
Chelsea’s link comes from the fact their chief South American scout is Chilean Jorge Alvial and with Didier Drogba stalling over a new contract and Nicolas Anelka moving to China in January, Andre Villas-Boas will be looking for a new striker when the transfer window opens once more.
A move to Italy or Spain, where Villareal have been linked, looks the most likely destination as work permit issues could scupper any move to England. Despite his emergence, Vargas has only appeared in four of Chile’s last 12 competitive games (33%)*. Meaning he would miss out as FA Premier League rules state “a non-EU player applying for the permit must have played for his country in at least 75 percent of its competitive ‘A’ team matches for which he was available for selection during the previous two years.” Special dispensation could be granted if an English side could convince the judging panel that his precocious talent would be a worthy addition to English football, but it is a tough task.
A fee of between £10m-12m has been spoken of by Vargas’ agent, a figure which would be beneficial to both parties. La U cannot compete financially with the giants of South America, especially the Brazilian clubs like Santos who can pay Neymar European figure wages, and the money raised from this sale would set them up for a few years to come, whilst also representing a bargain for the lucky team to acquire the next big thing in South American football.
*Thanks to @Rupert_Fryer for the stat