BLOG ITALIA
Friday June 24 2011
Low-cost Lopez

Tracked by some pretty big clubs 12 months ago, Maxi Lopez, as Rob Paton writes, is no longer such an attractive transfer target.

Just a year on from turning down a reported €14m bid from Rubin Kazan for Argentine striker Maxi Lopez, both Catania and the player are struggling to attract interest on a lowered €10m valuation this summer, despite his being on the market.

Clubs such as Fiorentina, Napoli and Genoa are all thought interested in the former River Plate man, but are reportedly unwilling to enter negotiations with the Elefanti, despite the Sicilians confirming his availability and slashing €6m off their original asking price.

Lopez arrived at Etna in January 2010, immediately slotted into Sinisa Mihajlovic's counter-attacking 4-3-3 system, and displayed a career-best cutting edge to his play. From 17 appearances, the former Barcelona man netted 11 goals and assisted a further two.

Technically and physically able to work openings for himself or bring teammates into play, he converted every third chance he had into a goal, and at least tested opposition goalkeepers with two-thirds of his shots. This was why clubs came in for the player during the summer 2010 and why Pietro Lo Monaco chose to build the 2010-11 team around him staying.

However, under new Coach Marco Giampaolo, things took a turn for the worse. Accused of a negative mindset that often saw a 4-5-1 deployed, there was little freedom or encouragement for the midfielders to support Lopez in a lone striker role. Still capably holding the ball up and effectively occupying two centre-backs, the striker found himself either at a great distance from teammates, or in rectifying that, nearer the halfway line than the opposition penalty area.

Such were Catania's tactics that sat off teams, opponents regularly deployed a high defensive line to push Lopez away from danger, with the knowledge any counter-attacks would be through the solitary attempts of the striker. Subsequently, a majority of Lopez's attempts in the first half of the season were from distance, or from tight angles the result of pessimistic long passes over full-backs' heads that played him into the channels, away from goal. During Giampaolo's tenure, Lopez found the target with just 13 of his 45 shots, returning five goals before the Coach's January departure.

However, more significantly, and perhaps the reason why clubs are still pushing for a lower price on Lopez is that under replacement Coach Diego Simeone, he netted just two goals from 16 played. Simeone restored Adrian Ricchiuti to good effect amid a more aggressive 4-2-3-1, and despite Lopez's performances returning – effectively contributing to link-up play again – his shooting accuracy and goals did not.

Where Lopez's declining strike-rate under Giampaolo can be presented as a by-product of a Coach's negativity, he now finds himself judged by the subsequent, equally disappointing six months under Simeone. It may seem narrow-minded to base a price off of such a short-term return, but it is the same principle applied that last summer saw €14m bids come in, and this year sees nothing concrete. It is also important to note that under-achieving under expectation has been an aspect of Lopez's through a majority of his career.

For now, Napoli are confirmed interested but not at the price levels Catania are hoping for, with the Azzurri tellingly seeing their choice as between him and €5m-rated Rolando Bianchi, reflective of their valuation of 27-year-old Lopez.

Interestingly, where open to a move as late as April when Lazio were tracking the player, their capture of Miroslav Klose, combined with the lack of offers elsewhere has seen the player through his agent confirm a willingness to now remain at the Stadio Massimino to work under new Coach Vincenzo Montella.

Indeed, for a footballer who has played in four countries since leaving Argentina, and never spent more than 18 months in any of his club's first teams since River Plate, Lopez may find the best solution to his drought – and Catania's to drawing substantial future bids – is for him to stay put for a change.

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