22nd August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Born to an Angolan father and a Greek mother, Red Bull Salzburg's immensely talented youngster, Valentino Lazaro, has unquestionably developed into one of the most exciting youngsters in European football.
Having spent almost 10 years honing his craft at hometown club Grazer AK, the ambitious Austrian giants, Red Bull Salzburg, recognised his undeniable potential and shrewdly signed him in 2011. Although Lazaro was just 15 at the time, it didn't take him long to impress his new employers. His rapid rise to prominence continued when he made his first-team debut, at 16 years and 224 days, against FC Admira Wacker in November of 2012, which saw him become the youngest player ever in the history of the Austrian Bundesliga.
Then, aged just 18, as a result of his strong showings at club level, he received his first senior national team call-up and debuted in Austria's 1-1 draw with Iceland on the 30th of May 2014, when he came on in place of Marko Arnautovic.
Unsurprisingly some of European football's heavyweights began to circle, with Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan and AC Milan reportedly even presenting him with offers, but after consultating his father, Lazaro decided Salzburg was the best place to further his development. Signing a new four and a half year contract in 2015 saw him tangibly commit to the club, something the club were absolutely delighted about.
"We are really pleased that we have been able to get one of the biggest talents in Austria to commit to FC Red Bull Salzburg for the long term in Valentino Lazaro," explained Ralf Rangnick, Salzburg's sporting director.
"He is one of the youngest players to have ever played for Austria. Valentino is a top talent of our next generation, whom we want to accompany on the next steps of his development. We are completely convinced that he will give us a lot of joy in the future."
Lazaro himself then added: "I am thrilled that Red Bull Salzburg are placing their faith in me and planning even further ahead with me. Several interesting clubs have been in touch. In the end I had some very good conversations with the sporting director, Ralf Rangnick, and the coach, Adi Hutter, which were very persuasive in me wanting to stay in Salzburg. I believe that the best for me personally is to continue to play for Red Bull Salzburg."
Since tying himself down to the energy drink backed club, Lazaro's unfortunately been struck down by a raft of frustrating injuries. A severe hamstring ailment in 2015, which was followed by a nasty ankle ligament injury has meant he's missed large chunks of the last two seasons. But importantly when he's played, his dynamic set of attributes have seen him showcase precisely why he's such a highly regarded prospect.
Blessed with sublime technical ability and blistering pace, the 20-year-old's a real handful for any defender to stop. Lazaro's one of a rare breed of players who are capable of getting beyond his opponent by using both his pace and his expansive catalogue of skills, thus making him a very challenging and unpredictable adversary. Moreover, his knack of finding a teammate with a killer ball in the final third, from wide and central areas, parlayed with his competent finishing prowess, only serve to amplify his attacking worth.
Other facets of his game that deserve special mention are his defensive tenacity and bravery when competing in aerial confrontations. The latter was especially well evidenced in the Red Bulls' crucial Champions League qualification contest with Dinamo Zagreb last week, where he relentlessly challenged in the air throughout the 1-1 draw. The acrobatic, courageous diving headed goal from Wanderson's fizzing cross was a fitting reward for all toils in this regard.
Possessing flair, audacity and confidence, Lazaro definitely has that innate ability to change a game in an instant with an extraordinary piece of play, but his propensity to be struck down by injury is the one thing that's hindering his progression so far.
Being a part of an extremely professional Salzburg outfit that has won two consecutive doubles and featured heavily in European competition, will have instilled in him a strong desire to recover as quickly as possible to be a part of the team's success. Moreover, playing within a team that boasts such a phenomenal winning mentality should bode well for when he enters the cutthroat world of elite European football.
Given his explosive, well rounded skillset, a potential reunion with his former coach at Salzburg and now Bayer Leverkusen manager, Roger Schmidt, or a move to affiliate club RB Leipzig would be great fits for his development. Nonetheless, expect a major club to come in for him sooner rather than later.
Although, he's still a touch raw and not yet the finished article, if he can stay fit, the footballing world really could be Lazaro's oyster.
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Valentino Lazaro: Red Bull Salzburg's Gifted Attacking Midfielder
22nd August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.