The classic No10, a player blessed with sublime skill, extrasensory vision and impeccable passing ability, is in short supply. Yet one man who slips effortlessly into that hollow bracket is Javier Pastore, who is hoping to persuade Diego Maradona to take him to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
And though the attacking midfielder, who will turn 21 on 20 June, two days before Argentina’s final group match against Greece, did not feature in his country’s midweek win over Germany, he is still in with a fighting chance of making the Albiceleste plane. Indeed, a goal in a friendly against Catalonia in December 2009 on his senior international debut has put him firmly in the frame, as have a series of outstanding displays for Palermo, whom he has helped push for UEFA Champions League qualification.
Not that Pastore is getting carried away: “I just want to keep doing my best and prove to the Argentina coaching staff that I’m capable of playing for the national team,” he said.
Hailing from the Argentinian city of Cordoba, Pastore’s first steps on the professional football ladder were taken at Talleres, one of the area’s leading teams. Brought into the club’s youth ranks at the age of nine, he had been recommended by his school's physical education teacher, who felt the rangy youngster’s basketball prowess could be transferred to the football pitch. “I even carried on playing basketball while I was coming up through the youth system. And I still follow the NBA,” said El Huesito.
“I just went for it. I’d never played on a full-size pitch before and the day I went on trial at Talleres my dad said I ought to tell them I was a No10. And that’s where I stayed,” he explained, on how a player measuring in at over six foot made a niche for himself in a role normally reserved for more diminutive performers. “I like how (Juan Roman) Riquelme and Kaka play, they’re two great players. I think that my game shares some similarities with theirs, but I can’t compare myself to them – I’m only just starting out.”
That may be the case, but Pastore has made giant strides since his first-team debut for Talleres as a 17-year-old in the side’s promotion campaign under coach Ricardo Gareca. After just five appearances, however, he was on his way to join Huracan in 2007, where administrative problems and a serious ankle injury meant 2008 was a virtual write-off on the playing front.
Thus it was in the first half of 2009 that his stock really began to rise, after playing a starring role and contributing seven goals to Huracan’s eye-catching Clausura campaign, when Angel Cappa’s expansive side were pipped to the title on the final day of the season by Velez Sarsfield.
Cappa, whose CV includes spells in Spanish football working as an assistant coach to Jorge Valdano, had this to say about his former charge: “Javier is an exquisite player, and there are not many of those about. As soon as I saw him, I knew he had a brilliant career ahead of him.”
The feeling was mutual, with Pastore revealing just how Cappa’s tailored methods helped him explode on to the Argentinian scene. “Angel treated me differently to the others. He’d send them all off running while he took me to one side to talk and explain things about the game. My team-mates used to give me grief for being the coach’s favourite. I think, deep down, they were right.”
Following reported interest from European giants such as AC Milan and Chelsea, Pastore eventually made a multi-million-pound move to up-and-coming Palermo. And he has flourished on Italian soil, appearing in 23 of his new team’s 26 Serie A encounters so far, though his first goal did not come until a 4-2 defeat by Bari in late-January. It was his performance in last week’s 2-0 win at Juventus that really made people stand up and take notice, with respected daily Corriere dello Sport stating that “it was his presence, undisputed class and strategic vision that guided Palermo to victory”.
Palermo coach Delio Rossi said: “God has given him huge talent and a lot of intelligence, but he’s still young. If he listens to me he’ll be able to carve out real openings for himself." The man of the moment is taking it all in his stride, though. “The only thing that’s changed is that in Italian football I’m required to do more for the team when we don’t have the ball.”
So, will said additions to his all-round game help Pastore live up to the great expectations of Cappa and Rossi? Is there time enough to cement a place in Maradona’s plans for South Africa 2010? As is so often the case in football, only time will tell.
The Palermo youngster shares a dressing room at the Italian club with compatriot Nicolas Bertolo, who, like Pastore, was born in the Argentinian city of Cordoba, capital of the province of the same name.
Pastore’s senior international debut came in a friendly match against Catalonia on 22 December 2009. The playmaker started the game in Barcelona’s Camp Nou wearing the No15, scoring a goal in a 4-2 defeat for La Albiceleste.
Now in the frame for Argentina’s senior side, Pastore did not feature at youth level for his country, though then U-20 coach Sergio Batista did wish to include him in his squad for the Sudamericano 2009. However, Huracan instead insisted the youngster complete pre-season with his club, with Batista’s Albiceleste subsequently missing out on qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.
Pastore made his Argentinian top-flight debut for Huracan on 24 May 2008. The opposition for that encounter on Matchday 16 of the Clausura 2008 were Buenos Aires giants River Plate, with Pastore joining the fray in place of Federico Poggi in a game his team lost 1-0.