By Luis Mira | Portuguese Football Editor
If doubts had already been raised about Nicolas Gaitan's price-tag of €45 million (the figure in his release clause), they were only strengthened after Benfica’s 2-1 defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday. For 60 minutes, the winger was largely anonymous, and he paid the price by being replaced on the hour mark by Yannick Djalo, who brought much more incisiveness to the attack despite making just his eighth competitive appearance of the season.
Gaitan's dip in form is, however, nothing new: the Argentine talent has endured a frustrating 2012. All this after a stunning first half to the campaign when he was a key player for Benfica in every competition, including the Champions League, where he led the tournament's assist chart.
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But since sustaining a thigh injury in early December, Gaitan has failed to turn in the kind of performances that had convinced United to earmark him as a potential recruit. Criticism did not take long to appear, as it was suggested that the Argentine was more focused on securing a transfer than on helping Benfica secure the Portuguese Liga title and make their mark in Europe.
Manchester City quickly joined United in dispatching scouts to Lisbon on a regular basis to check on Gaitan, and the Champions League draw for the quarter-finals appeared to have set up the perfect scenario for the Argentine to show himself to his Premier League suitors: a chance to measure himself up against Chelsea.
At the Estadio da Luz, he made his quality noticeable in some stages of the match, but it was not enough to overshadow what was generally a disappointing performance. One week later at Stamford Bridge, Gaitan didn't fare any better, and was hauled off with 30 minutes still to play. It was the 24th time this season that he had been replaced before the end of a match.
Benfica rallied after Gaitan's substitution - despite being down to 10 men - and set up a thrilling finale when Javi Garcia headed home a corner with five minutes to go. Substitute Nelson Oliveira then missed a golden chance to steal the tie on away goals before Raul Meireles' sucker punch in injury time ended Portuguese dreams of a miracle recovery.
As we approach the conclusion of the 2011-12 campaign, and consequently the opening of the summer transfer market, Gaitan raises more questions than answers: he remains largely inconsistent and seems unable to perform against quality sides who know exactly how to limit his effectiveness.
The former Boca Juniors star may require some more time to accustom himself to European football, and with a release clause set at €45m, he is too much of a gamble for the likes of United, who will surely look elsewhere in search of players who can provide value for money.
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