For many fans across the globe, the name Lucas Barrios means very little. However, the striker needs no introduction to followers of Chilean football, for whom the 24-year-old has become synonymous with goals. The bare stats brook no argument. The Argentinian has found the net 37 times in 38 games for Colo Colo, in the process powering them to the league title and back into the Copa Libertadores.
The talk now is whether El Cacique can maintain his services in the face of growing interest from abroad. If news stories and rumours are to believed, this seems increasingly unlikely, with an imminent transfer to the old continent widely mooted. FIFA.com takes a closer look at the red-hot striker, who remains unperturbed amid the maelstrom of media attention.
Goals, goals, goals
A native of San Fernando in Greater Buenos Aires, Barrios's early years in the Argentinian top flight were modest compared with those of contemporaries like Javier Saviola and Fernando Cavenaghi. Instead, the striker's road to fame has been a rather circuitous one. After debuting in 2003 with Argentinos Juniors, the club where Diego Maradona made his first foray in the professional game, the 24-year-old had spells with Tigre and Tiro Federal in his homeland, Chilean sides Temuco and Cobreloa, before signing for Mexican club Atlas in 2007.
But it was 2008 when his career really took off. Colo Colo's then coach Claudio Borghi, on the lookout for a replacement for Humberto Suazo, decided to bring him south again following a difficult first season in Mexico. Borghi's judgement proved impeccable and Barrios wasted no time repaying the coach's faith in him. La Pantera (The Panther), as he is known, hit 19 goals in the Apertura Championship then another 18 in the year-ending Clausura, equalling Luis Hernan Alvarez's 45-year-old club record for most goals scored in a season.
Fulsome in his praise for the goal-getting Barrios has been Marcelo Barticciotto, his current boss at Colo Colo. "He's had a remarkable and unforgettable season - thank God he plays for us! He has an impressive level of self-confidence, but it's warranted as he works extremely hard and is a great lad. A significant part of our title win was down to him," the coach said recently. Indeed Barticciotto, a naturalised Chilean of Argentinian birth, has even suggested his star striker follows in his footsteps and considers representing La Roja. "Here in Chile, players with his qualities are in short supply. If he has been treated very well in this country and given the chance to fulfil his potential , then why not? He'd be a very good option for any coach," added the Cacique tactician.
Barticciotto's praise is not without foundation either. At 1.83m, Barrios is an imposing presence yet extremely adroit with the ball at his feet. In fact, many of his goals have stemmed from subtle touches and moves he orchestrated himself. Among his most memorable this season was undoubtedly the brace he netted in his side's 2-0 win over arch-rivals Universidad de Chile in last October's edition of the superclásico.
A future far from Chile?
As you might expect, the player named the World's best Top Division Scorer for 2008 by the International Federation of Football, History & Statistics (IFFHS) is unsure of where his long-term future lies. Rumours abound of an imminent move to Europe, with France, Germany and Greece the most talked-about destinations. So will the striker be departing Chilean shores or will he finally get to grace the Copa Libertadores?
"That decision is out of my hands, which is why I try not to dwell on it. I'm happy playing for Colo Colo and, if I have to stay here for the Copa Libertadores, I'll do so gladly," he said while enjoying a well deserved break in Argentina. "It's very nice to be recognised for doing something I'm good at, which is playing football and scoring goals. This attention has also put Chilean football in the spotlight, and that's something I'm pleased about after everything the country has done for me in this period," he added.
Some claim his days in South America football are numbered, just as others insist he will stay for the challenge of the Copa Libertadores, take up Chilean nationality and help La Roja secure a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. All we can say with certainty is that Lucas Barrios will continue to score goals and try to set new records wherever he goes. All agree that 2008 was the start of something special for the striker. What remains to be seen now is just how far he can go.