Valencia’s Copa del Rey and La Liga challenge has been boosted by Luciano Vietto, who has turned back the clock under a former boss
The wonderkid tag is one that is thrown around with reckless abandon in South America but just when Luciano Vietto looked to be heading towards the ‘whatever happened to’ pile, the 24-year-old secured a revitalizing transfer and immediately sprang back to life.
The unbridled joy on Vietto’s face after spectacularly scoring from almost the halfway line to complete a hat-trick on his first start for Valencia was clear and aside from helping his new club into the next round of the Copa del Rey with victory over Las Palmas, it was a moment of relief and redemption.
It had been a little over a year since Vietto had hit the back of the net, a run that had seen Sevilla pass up any plans to make his loan permanent and eventually for Atletico Madrid to lose patience.
Vietto admitted after collecting the match ball that it was hard to explain and one man, who might have played a key role in the turnaround modestly said, “that’s football.”
That man was Valencia manager Marcelino, someone who has seen the qualities of Vietto up close already in his short career.
The pair worked together at Villarreal during the 2014-15 season, where Vietto truly announced himself on the European scene, scoring 20 goals in a debut campaign at the age of 21.
That breakthrough year was supposed to push Vietto onto greater things but since moving to Atleti for €20 million in 2015, the forward has struggled to reproduce that form. One goal from 25 appearances for Los Colchoneros, a slightly better record that admittedly tailed off badly on loan with Sevilla, left one of Argentina’s most promising young players with it all to prove once more.
A point not lost in Vietto, “I want to get back to the level I had at Villarreal…that’s the player I am,” the hat-trick hero told reporters.
The chance to reunite with Marcelino was too tempting for Vietto, rejecting the advances of Sporting CP to see it through and it could prove to be the best decision of his career.
Marcelino knows Vietto’s strengths and weaknesses but more than anything else has been able to give him the confidence needed to shake off that torrid run in front of goal.
A confidence that has been evident throughout the club after back-to-back twelfth place finishes in La Liga, Valencia are now up to third and throughout the squad there are other examples of players arriving with a point to prove and now flourishing under Marcelino.
Now it should be added that the same could have been said when Vietto joined Atletico, after all it was Diego Simeone, who gave the 17-year-old his professional debut at Racing Club. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, Cholo’s intense and physically demanding side weren’t the best fit but there is still a feeling of disappointment from the Atleti manager that things didn’t work out.
“His departure annoys me because his play hasn’t been accompanied by goals at a team which doesn’t wait,” Simeone said when Vietto was preparing to leave.
“He has been one of our best players. I love him a lot as a person and he is an extraordinary footballer. It’s a shame that he hasn’t been able to add goals to his game.”
A shame for Atleti certainly as Vietto has instantly rediscovered that form for Valencia and what is bound to be a source of frustration for Simeone and the club is how readily goals have flowed at almost every other point of his career.
It was Vietto’s prolific record at youth level after the initial disappointments of being rejected by Estudiantes that prompted Simeone to hand him a senior debut at Racing. As a regular the following season under Luis Zubeldia, Vietto’s potential really began to materialise and a stunning hat-trick on his first start signaled great things.
Simeone will have been keeping tabs during this progression as the teenage striker finished the season with 13 goals and became the first Racing player to score two trebles in one short championship.
And it was this form that eventually saw Villarreal beat a host of other European clubs to his signature. This and the subsequent debut season for the Yellow Submarine, always made the thought of Valencia striking gold a distinct possibility despite his troubles over the past two years or so.
As a versatile forward, capable of dropping deep and linking up play while presenting a very real penalty box threat, Vietto provides Valencia with a tremendous attacking option. Thoughts of muscling his way into Jorge Sampaoli’s plans remain some way off but the 24-year-old could help Los Che to a Champions League spot and who knows where that could take the club and him.