Not since the 2002/03 La Liga campaign has Deportivo La Coruna had a player score nine goals in the first 13 matches. Their magnificent Dutchman Roy Makaay did so 12 years ago on his way to scoring 29 goals and winning the coveted Pichichi.
While it’s taken over a decade for Makaay’s record to be matched, Lucas Perez has finally done it. And in some style too. Depor’s attacking fulcrum has been nothing short of spectacular so far, as he’s wreaked havoc on defences all over the country with his fearless, all-action style.
Bursting with energy and enthusiasm, Perez has lead Victor Sanchez’s side from the front with unyielding gusto and vigour. His inspirational work rate, never say die attitude and, of course, his goals have been crucial in Depor’s fantastic start to the season. Now up to eighth on the table, after a stirring win over Celta Vigo in the Galician derby, courtesy largely of Perez’s seventh minute opener, the Brancoazuis remarkably find themselves knocking on the door of the European qualification spots.
Leading up to the derby there was a suspicion that Perez wouldn’t recover in time due to injury, but in true Perez fashion, he emphatically quashed that train of thought.
“They would have to cut off both legs and both arms to miss the derby. I would have to be crawling, believe me,” he insisted.
With such a mindset, it’s hardly surprising why Depor’s die-hard supporters love him and respect him so much. Upon listening to Perez speak on the team’s fans and the importance of winning the derby for them, the feeling’s clearly mutual too.
“When you don’t win a derby, then you haven’t matched the expectations of the people. Therefore, you’ve disappointed them. You didn’t match the expectations,” explained Perez.
“To me what matters is to cheer up the fans and win the derby.”
And that’s exactly what Perez and his teammates did, with their relentless talisman putting in a particularly outstanding shift, full of intensity and desire.
Perez worked his socks off throughout the match, even when he suffered cramp 10 minutes from time, he got up and toughed it out to the end. The embodiment of the club’s fighting spirit he most definitely was.
As ever, his expert runs in behind gave Celta plenty of headaches. While the explosive attacker’s physicality and confrontational approach can tend to stereotype a player like him into the all braun and no brains category, this certainly isn’t the case for Perez. His forward surges are extremely well thought out, and against Eduardo Berizzo’s men he constantly identified and exploited any available openings across Celta’s backline. His goal suitably illustrated his predatory instincts and prowess inside the 18-yard-box, with Perez once again in the right spot at the right time.
Aside from showcasing his artistry of perfectly angling and arcing his runs to remain onside, his movement into unoccupied areas of the pitch was equally as intriguing to observe.
Whenever Celta had possession, Lucas would remain quite high and quite close to either flank. He did this to ensure that as soon as a turnover occured, he could make great use of the vast spaces in behind Celta’s onrushing fullbacks, who, as per Berizzo’s desire, always pushed forward.
Lucas’ crafty positioning also meant he could isolate himself in 1v1 situations against one of Celta’s centre-backs, who had to be dragged out of position to cover him. As soon as he inherited the ball, Lucas, in customary fashion, would then drive straight at his marker and use his wicked blend of pace and close control to wreak havoc.
With plenty of space in the middle as a result, his strike partner, Jonathan Rodriguez, and his other attacking colleagues, had oceans of room to make damaging forays into the box.
On the topic of Rodriguez, Perez’s Uruguayan teammate upfront, who’s yo-yoed in and out of the team a bit this season, with his cause not being helped when the Benfica loanee suffered a bout of gastro at the beginning of the month, it was great to see the pair dovetail so encouragingly in attack. The duo clearly used the two week international break to good effect, as they never mimicked each other’s movement. If one made a run towards the flank, the other would be in a central area, ready to get on the end of any potential deliveries from out wide.
With Deportivo’s frontmen at times looking isolated from the midfielders within Sanchez’s 4-4-2 formation, Perez and Rodriguez’s strong understanding ensured this didn’t become too much of an issue. The way they undertook subtle, seamless switches of positions further illustrated their cohesion.
Perez’s astute back to goal hold up work provided another great avenue for his side to attack through. Using his awesome strength and low centre of gravity, Perez just couldn’t be outmuscled or pushed off the ball by his markers, which made him a terrific option for his teammates to utilise. A safe one too, for he never lost out in strength battles, plus his nifty passing game saw him consistently complete his lay-offs.
On the defensive end, his relentless pressing exertions of the Celta centre halves and the way he flew aggressively into tackles undoubtedly combined to make life very unpleasant for the away side to instigate their usually slick passing game.
As the game ended in a 2-0 win for the home side, it was hard to escape how influential Perez’s splendid body of work proved to be.
The 27-year-old once again showed off his impressive penchant for scoring important goals. Although his derby goal lacked the drama of his breathtaking stoppage time equaliser against Atletico Madrid, where he doggedly ran down Jose Gimenez to steal possession, before going on to breeze past Jan Oblak with a sublime piece of skill to score, it was just as crucial.
Sid Lowe succinctly summed up the Depor star, saying: “There is something special about Pérez: not just talented but dynamic, determined, almost desperate in the way that he plays, constantly on the move.”
While Perez is quickly establishing himself as a cult hero at the club, his rise to becoming the top scoring Spaniard in La Liga unquestionably hasn’t been all plain sailing.
Growing up in La Coruna and being a fan of the club as a boy, he’s had to go the long way round to fulfil his dream of playing for his hometown club. His story is made all the more intriguing by the fact he was rejected by the club after an unsuccessful trial. Following this, after a stint at Alaves, he moved to Atletico, where he played two seasons in their C team.
A switch to Rayo Vallecano saw him have to pack his bags again. Throughout his tenure at the Vallecas, which was predominantly spent in the B team, he did, however, admirably make seven appearances for the first-team, albeit when they were in the Second Division. Bagging 26 goals from 51 appearances for the Red Sashes suitably depicted his talent however.
Ukrainian outfit Karpaty Lviv soon came knocking and Perez chose to take on the challenge. Moving to Lviv didn’t appear the most inspired decision, but Perez made the most of the opportunity, quickly earning adulation, in both the league and in the Europa League, for his eye-catching efforts on both sides of the ball. As a result, it didn’t take long for one of the big boys of Ukrainian football to come knocking, with Dynamo Kiev acquiring the man who’d scored almost 20 goals for Lviv on a short-term loan.
On the surface, his transfer to the capital seemed like a natural progression, but it turned out to be anything but. Perez describes his time at Kiev as “the worst four months of his career.”
“They still owe me money but that’s not all. What hurt me most was that they didn’t value me,” he lamented.
“I was sent to the second team to train. They never spoke to me, the deal was not good.”
Near the end of his loan in Kiev, the club expressed their desire to keep him, but Perez had endured enough, instead opting to load up the suitcase again and move to Greek side PAOK for another fresh start.
Costing €700,000, Perez quickly went about repaying the Greek giants for giving him a way out of Ukraine. Perez snagged a remarkable 15 goals in all competitions in his first season, as his imposing style continued to give him a the perfect base from which to thrive.
For the 2014/15 season, Perez finally got his dream move, with Deportivo securing him on loan. The move immediately appeared to be a match made in heaven, for Perez scored on his official debut for the club in a tremendous 3-0 triumph over Valencia at the Riazor.
Although his season was interrupted by injury, netting six times from 21 matches in a struggling team offered numerous glimpse of his wicked capabilities. Depor’s spectacular 2-2 draw with Barcelona on the final day of the season propelled him to hero status as his 67th goal was crucial in his side’s comeback that prevented them from being relegated.
On his return to PAOK, Perez hit two in two games to kickstart their Europa League qualification campaign. But before he could do any more damage, Depor smartly chimed in to snap up the player on a four-year deal.
The measly €1.5 million transfer fee has definitely turned out to be money well spent, for Lucas has lit up La Liga since arriving. Now back home, the man whose father and grandfather are both fisherman is proving to the club what a valuable asset he is to this side.
Perez refreshing reflects on his time and experience abroad with plenty of positivity and humility. “Seriously, the fact of going out of my home very young it helped me a lot,” he told the Deportivo website.
“I’ve matured. I’m 27 and I still have enough time. I have things very clear. I fight for what I want. I want a good future to later have a quiet life.”
Despite having to achieve almost everything the hard way, the feisty forward, who confesses his footballing style comes from the “neighborhood”, is now finally being rewarded for all his determination and dedication.
Long may his superlative form continue too. No one could begrudge this hometown hero any of the success that comes his way – this Galician street fighter has well and truly earned it.
About the author – Edward Stratmann
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.