Despite his impressive season on loan with Espanyol in 2014-15, Rafael Benitez’s steadfast decision to retrieve Lucas Vazquez raised plenty of eyebrows in the capital. It wasn’t that the 24-year-old wasn’t respected in his ability; seeing a ‘canterano’ (academy product) return home was exciting if anything. It was merely a question of: how would he get time on the pitch?
Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Jese Rodriguez, Isco and Denis Cheryshev were all candidates for the wide positions, while the first three names are automatic selections as long as they are healthy. Though being deemed good enough to be considered by Benitez seemed great in its premise, the prospect of Vazquez making any meaningful contribution to his manager’s cause seemed speculative at best.
For the first few months of the season, there arrived little by the way of dissuasion. Vazquez was only entrusted with a single start against lowly Granada, and otherwise kept away from the fire of the bigger contests
At least, for as long as it could be helped.
Come October, with injuries plaguing the Madrid squad at an electrifying rate, and a series of high-stakes games approaching, the Galicia native would quickly have his own high stakes to deal with. His second and third starts of the season would come back-to-back; first in the Parc des Princes against Paris St-Germain, and then at Balaidos against Spain’s ‘other’ best team, Celta de Vigo.
Vazquez was Benitez’s responsibility – given his insistence to recoup him from Espanyol – and so the buck would inevitably fall with him if things went sour. Not to mention, the two fixtures were vital to the manager’s footing in the Spanish capital. If Madrid stumbled, the axe would have arrived right on queue, with neither coming out of the other side looking so pretty.
As it happened, Vazquez and Benitez have emerged looking quite the opposite. And while it might not provide much substance in the long-term for the Real Madrid manager, given the volatility of the role, the 24-year-old can have reason to believe of something more profound.
In Paris and in Vigo, the wide player affirmed himself in a way that not many of the speculative candidates for Real Madrid’s attacking roles do. While most would argue that Jese and in some cases, Cheryshev, are more talented heading for goal, Vazquez stands above when it comes to combining his defensive duties with those of the more expressive type. In other words, the type that Benitez likes.
It thus comes as a stroke of fortune that Benitez should be the man to take Madrid’s managerial reigns. His early reign at the Bernabeu has been characterised by its solidity and pragmatism, while it was well known beforehand that the 55-year-old craves the order of his team as much as any other redeeming attribute.
Vazquez has given him exactly that, at a time when he needed it the most. The fact that he played with such reliability in two games of paramount importance – just days apart – is likely to have done wonders in the eyes of his manager, who must also feel a sense of satisfaction given that it was he who sought to bring Vazquez back to the capital.
In the all-consuming world of being the manager of Real Madrid, adding feathers to your cap along the way tends to be critical in terms of one’s longevity. If Benitez can lay claim to overseeing the transformation of a ‘canterano’ into a respectable first team player at the Bernabeu, it will not go unnoted; especially at a time where homegrown products are becoming increasingly scarce in los Blancos’ plans.
The benefit for Vazquez, of course, is a more assertive place in Madrid’s star-studded squad. He has the trust of his manager and an individual style that Benitez is fond of. “I don’t like to talk much about a player individually, but if Lucas is playing ahead of others it’s because he’s earned it,” his selector recently said; underlining his endearment to the 24-year-old.
Though Vazquez isn’t likely to ever nail down a firm place in Madrid’s starting eleven, when it comes to valuable squad players, few look to fit the bill better than he. And Benitez will be well aware of it now, if he wasn’t already.
About the author – Jamie Kemp
Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.