21 August 2013

The sinner who became a Saint

A profile on Southampton's colourful new signing for the Irish Examiner print edition

Southampton’s record signing Pablo Osvaldo says he will not make the mistakes his compatriot Mario Balotelli made in the Premier League, says Joseph Sexton
In signing Pablo Daniel Osvaldo for a fee that could reach £15m (€17.5m) with add-ons, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino has potentially pulled off a real coup for the south coast club. 

But the deal is not without its risks. 

It was under Pochettino’s hand at Espanyol that the Argentina-born Italy striker first began to bloom into a real talent, capable of performing at a high level consistently. But equally ‘Dani’ comes with something of a reputation as a bad egg. 

Pablo Daniel Osvaldo meeting Pope Francis

In recent years, that hasn’t had any great impact on his displays on the field. His initial arrival on loan at Espanyol in January 2010 lifted the club out of a sticky situation. And as Osvaldo alluded to on Monday, the faith shown in by the current Saints manager was crucial in helping him grow as a player. 

A series of enforced sales by Espanyol fatally undermined Pochettino’s later tenure, leading to his departure last November. It would be no exaggeration to say that Osvaldo’s move to Roma in 2011 was chief amongst these. 

Espanyol found his goals hard to replace as well as his ability in leading the line. 

Meanwhile, in Italy, Osvaldo proved to be amongst the better acquisitions of a mixed bag signed in Luís Enrique’s time at Roma. 

His goal return of 28 from 57 games in all competitions represented an improvement from an already impressive ratio at Espanyol. But the forward’s more colourful side also proved deeply problematic at times. 

At Espanyol, he had developed a reputation as a party boy; the football satire show Cráckovia invariably depicted him as something of a goofy Saturday Night Fever caricature. But for the most part, he delivered the goods and was a popular a figure in the dressing room and the stands. 

In Italy, however, that dynamic changed. Luís Enrique is something of a disciplinarian, and friction emerged early on in, as Roma struggled to adapt to the Spanish manager’s methods. 

Perhaps the most infamous such incident followed a November 2011 reverse at Udinese. Osvaldo got into a heated argument with his young Argentine colleague, the flashy former River Plate attacker, Erik Lamela. 

Osvaldo, according to sources, was infuriated at Lamela’s failure to give him the ball during the match. When Lamela ignored him, the incensed Osvaldo shouted “I’m older than you and this isn’t River, so answer me when I talk to you!” 

Lamela countered “Who the hell do you think you are? You’re not Maradona!” Osvaldo is then alleged to have cold clocked him with a punch to the face. Osvaldo denies this part, insisting it was a slap followed by some pushing. 

What is certain is Luís Enrique took a dim view of the matter, fining him maximum possible under Italian league rules — €50,000 — and banned him from the next weekend’s fixture. 

His reputation for partying grew even more notorious in Rome, earning him the wrath of supporters. In their customary fashion, graffiti was daubed on the training ground walls. 

Osvaldo could hardly have made matters worse then by being seen driving around Rome in a Mini festooned with the colours of Napoli — Roma’s fierce rivals — and the image of Maradona, a figure of hate for fans of other Italian sides. 

He also controversially refused to collect his runners-up medal after their Coppa Italia loss to Lazio in May; an act of petulance which saw Cesare Prandelli leave him out of the Confederations Cup squad. 

But what took the biscuit — and largely made this move possible — was the actions of his glamorous girlfriend Jimena Baron, when she took to Twitter last Thursday to bite back at the fans in Spanish. 

After calling them “pathetic fans, jerks” she proceeded to tell them “get a life. Your ignorance and immaturity is painful. You’re so thick you probably can’t even read this”. 

Not content, she went one further in her next tweet. “Here’s a universal sign for you ignorant lot who won’t stop pestering me and my boyfriend. You’ll get this one... kiss it!” 

Attached was a photo off her middle finger extended against a backdrop saying, in English, “F*** you”. 

Naturally, this served to make Osvaldo’s situation at the club untenable. But what Southampton are getting for their money is a talented footballer at a generous price. Quick, strong in the air, and athletic; physically he appears made for the Premier League. Indeed, he could well light it up. 

And as he has made clear he will relish his reunion with Pochettino. It will be intriguing to see how he fits into the manager’s plans. Pochettino generally favours a 4-2-3-1 but this gives him the option of playing two up front in certain games where he could wreak havoc alongside Rickie Lambert. 

However this works out, it’s certain that it’s not going to be boring. 

* Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephsbcn
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