Still just 21 years of age, Argentina and Palermo attacker Javier Matias Pastore is rapidly underlining his status as one of Serie A’s most exciting performers. The subject of covetous glances from a host of top European clubs, El Flaco is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and focusing on simply enjoying his football, just as he was taught by former mentor Angel Cappa.
Though he would have preferred to don the No16 shirt at his Sicilian employers, the outrageously gifted Argentinian is currently shining as Palermo’s No27 – a tribute to his wheelchair-bound mother and most fervent supporter Patricia. In an interview with FIFA.com, Pastore spoke about Italian football, cementing his place alongside Lionel Messi in Sergio Batista’s Albiceleste side, his idol Kaka and much more.
FIFA.com: Javier, would you mind telling us how you came about joining Palermo?
Javier Pastore: Of course, I was living in the offices of my agent Marcelo [Simonian]. The doorbell rang, I opened the door and it was Palermo director Walter Sabatini, who said to me: ‘I can go home now and rest easy, because I now know Simonian is your agent. Back in Italy each person I asked told me something different.’ The three of us sat down, he showed me videos and told me about the club’s plans. We spoke about the city of Palermo, the island of Sicily and by the time he left I was really excited. Marcelo told me: ‘We’re going to drive a hard bargain, but that’s where we’re going!’
What did you know about Italian football and Serie A before you arrived?
I’ve been watching Italian football since I was a boy. To me it always looked a very interesting league and now I’m fortunate enough to be able to play in it. In my opinion it’s the most demanding championship in the world, you get very little space to play in.
It did not take you long to win over ex-Argentina coach Diego Maradona, who selected you in his squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. How did you find out you’d been picked?
He phoned me himself to tell me. It was simply amazing.
Maradona has tagged you as a “footballing rebel”, hasn’t he?
That’s the way I play, to enjoy myself, just like (Pastore’s boss at former club Huracan) Angel Cappa used to tell me to. And I think that if I keep enjoying what I do, I’ll continue to improve. That’s my aim. I treat football like a job but also like a game. Suffering through it wouldn’t make sense.
Lionel Messi has said something similar in the past…
I'm pleased to share his footballing philosophy. But what’s really fun is playing alongside him. We’re similar off the field in that we’re both shy, but we change once we’re out on the pitch.
You once said that playing with Messi is like having five players alongside you, is that right?
Absolutely. Lio is the best player in the world and the best person too. When you play with him it’s like having five team-mates alongside you. He’s a different kind of player, he’ll pull off a move or play you the ball when your opponent least expects it.
What can you tell us about life in the Argentina squad since Sergio Batista took the helm?
He’s got a different style to Diego, but both are very good coaches. Batista’s preferred style is perhaps a bit closer to the one we used to play at Huracan, which works in my favour.
With Messi in the side, is the ultimate goal to emulate Barcelona’s style of play?
No, not at all. We play like Argentina and that’s that. You can’t expect us to perform the same way as a Barça side where Lio’s been playing with the same team-mates for ten years. That said, when we get together we do try to move the ball around like they do. That’s the type of football Messi is most comfortable with and it gets the best out of him.
Taking your own qualities into account, what type of football suits you best?
I don’t think the league you play in has anything to do with it, it comes down to how you yourself perform. Football is very different in Argentina and Italy but I enjoy playing in both countries. I feel at ease and that’s very important. When you have fun out on the pitch you enjoy your football, and that sense of fun is picked up by the fans in the stands. It’s about trying to enjoy yourself, wherever you’re playing.
Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini has said you’re worth €60million and that you’re better than Messi...
Our President likes and really values me, but there’s only one Lio and he’s the best in the world. I just try to play my game as well as I possibly can.
Argentina fell short at South Africa 2010, but since then they’ve thrashed Spain and beaten Brazil in friendlies. How important are these recent results?
It’s not every day that you beat the world champions, while we’d not defeated Brazil for a while. They were two prestigious victories which are helping us get our self-esteem back. We now need to reproduce those results at the Copa America (2011) on home soil.
How would you define yourself as a player? Who do you think you play like?
The media and other people compare me to excellent players, but they’re going a bit overboard. I’ve still got a lot to learn and too much ground to cover for comparisons like that.
Which players do you look up to?
My idol is Kaka. I’ve always tried to emulate him, to do the same things he does, but I can’t say that I’m like him. He’s an exceptional and very complete player. When I was a boy I used to follow [Enzo] El Príncipe Francescoli and in Argentinian football I really like Juan Roman Riquelme.
Can you tell us how you first met Riquelme?
I really admire him, he’s a great guy. I first met him in person when I was 15 and went for trials with Villarreal. I trained near him and even got my photo taken with him. I still treasure it!
If you had to outline your style to someone, what would you say?
I’m a player who likes to attack and get in goalscoring positions, and who always wants to try something. I also help recover possession, get involved in our pressing game and assist our defenders too. Knowing what to do when I don't have the ball is something I'm keen to improve on.
Footballing matters aside, was it tough adapting to life in Italy?
It wasn’t that difficult, although it’s not easy being so far from my friends and my loved ones. Though my family were with me every step of the way, I did find the process a bit tricky. The language barrier is a real issue, but you do learn. You pick up the customs too. I love Argentina, but I really like Italy.
How far do you think you can go in the game?
I’m not in any hurry, things are going well for me and I’m learning loads. I think I’m on the right track, though I want to keep improving. I’m 21 years old and I’m just trying to take things one step at a time here at Palermo.