Sharing a family connection with a global footballing superstar can, on occasion, prove a double-edged sword, particularly for those aiming to make their own way in such a fiercely competitive profession. Indeed, football history is littered with examples of players whose careers have suffered as a result of unfair, or unreasonable, comparisons with a more fabled relative.
Then there are those, such as Maximiliano Biancucchi, whose strength of character and perseverance have enabled them to overcome being the focus of intense media attention. “Over here at Olimpia they don’t just see me as [Lionel] Messi’s cousin,” the Argentinian told FIFA.com, on his successful transition to life at the Asuncion outfit.
Yes, you read right, Biancucchi is a cousin of the Barça genius, and this burden weighed heavily on him during his spells at Brazil’s Flamengo and Mexican club Cruz Azul. “Occasionally, after I’ve had a bad game, people have said that I’m only at a club because I’m Messi’s cousin,” said the 27-year-old, whose goals and livewire displays have now made him integral to Olimpia’s hopes in this year’s Copa Libertadores. “That feels like a punch in the stomach. I don’t let it get to me if people say I’ve played badly, but it hurts when they question your ability.”
Paraguay, a home from home
Fortunately, the Rosario-born attacker has the resilience to overcome such slights, as he has shown in spades since taking his early steps on the football ladder. After being released by Argentinian side San Lorenzo, where he had come up through the youth ranks, Maxi tried his luck with Paraguayan heavyweights Libertad.
And though everything seemed to be shaping up well, despite the challenges every youngster faces when moving far away from their family and friends, Biancucchi suffered a cranial traumatism in his very first training session with El Gumarelo – putting him on the sidelines for seven months. “I’ve not had much luck with injuries,” said the player, with a wry smile.
Leo is a phenomenal player and an even better person, but I just want to be judged on what I do out on the pitch.
“A few years later, when I was starting to establish myself at Flamengo, I tore a muscle and Renato Augusto took my place,” he continued. “He couldn’t stop scoring and now he’s playing [in Germany for Bayer] Leverkusen! The same thing happened at Cruz Azul: I started well, picked up the same injury and in came Javier Orozco, who grabbed loads of goals and broke into the national squad. I’m great at making other people famous!”
This run of bad luck seems to be coming to an end in the same place where it all started: Paraguay. Coming in to boost Olimpia’s Clausura 2011 bid, Biancucchi’s dribbling ability, searing right foot, and eye for an assist helped the club to their first national title for 11 years.
“It was great feeling to win the title at a club with so much history and such a large fanbase. We’re now in the Copa [Libertadores] and everybody’s really excited,” said Biancucchi, who has scored the winner in his side’s last two matches, against Argentinian side Lanus and domestic rivals Nacional respectively.
“That’s what I’m looking for. I want to prove my worth and play an entire season. It’s only by playing regularly that you can improve and better yourself. I’m aiming to have a good league season and help us go far in the Copa.”
Forging his own path
Curiously, in a parallel with Messi, Biancucchi has carved out his living outside of Argentina, though he would not rule out a return to his homeland. “I’ve always been a Newell’s [Old Boys] fan and I’d love to play there someday, but I wouldn’t rule out any club,” he said.
However, future ambitions aside, this fervent admirer of Javier Saviola is fully focused on reclaiming a continental title Olimpia lifted in 1979, 1990 and 2002. El Decano are in Group 2 of this year’s Libertadores, alongside Emelec, Flamengo and Lanus, against whom Maxi scored his aforementioned winner.
“We know it won’t be easy to win it, but we’ve had a good start and are picking up experience,” said Biancucchi. “It’s a lovely tournament that has everybody excited. We’ve started well and now we have to carry on in the same way,” added a player who has also enjoyed sojourns at other Paraguayan sides including Libertad, Tacuari and Sportivo Luqueno, where he won a championship in 2007.
“In football things are simple: if you play well they’ll applaud you and if you play badly they’ll insult you, whether you’re the cousin of Maradona, Pele or whoever,” said the Olimpia No7 as the conversation drew to a close. “Leo is a phenomenal player and an even better person, but I just want to be judged on what I do out on the pitch.”