By Nicholas Rosano
Sporting the unconventional No. 2 shirt and touted as a replacement for Boca Juniors legend Martin Palermo, Universidad Catolica striker Lucas Pratto can definitely distinguish himself from the crowd, and that’s without mentioning his ever-evolving hairstyles and curious goal celebrations.
Despite his unique mannerisms, one could be forgiven for knowing little about the 23-year-old, who has spent the majority of his short career in Chile and Norway, with two brief spells in the Argentine top flight. However, his name is on the lips of football fans across South America after a series of standout performances in the Copa Libertadores and the Chilean domestic league.
The tall striker showed with his brace in Universidad Catolica’s 2-1 win at Gremio exactly what he could bring to the table for Boca. The first goal came on the counter after an excellent individual effort from fellow Boca loanee Marcelo Canete. Pratto was able to position himself perfectly behind Gremio’s crumbling defence to receive Canete’s through pass and coolly side-foot past the onrushing goalkeeper. The second goal came from a powerful header, illustrating the dual threat that Pratto can pose to opposing back lines.
Going back even further, one can find evidence of his varied skill set in a number of big games. Whether a well-executed turn and shot for Catolica’s improbable equalizer in the group stages against Velez, or a well-timed run and finish in the derby with Universidad de Chile, Pratto has demonstrated that he has plenty of tools to succeed in a high-pressure environment.
However, as any number of players and managers who have failed to make the grade at La Bombonera will tell you, the pressure at Boca is a different beast entirely. Add to that the expectations of replacing one of the club's most revered players, and it’s a situation that few would envy.
Still, if anyone is to replace Martin Palermo at Boca, it always helps to have the support of the man himself. It was Palermo who saw Pratto playing for fourth division side Defensores de Cambaceres as a teenager and recommended to Boca’s directors that the club sign him. Now, with the Buenos Aires giants struggling for goals and the man who has netted over 200 times for them on the verge of retirement, Boca-owned Pratto seems like the logical replacement for 'El Titan'.
While other hot commodities such as Tigre’s Denis Stracqualursi and Velez Sarsfield’s Santiago Silva are also on the radar of the Xeneizes, Boca’s ownership of the player makes him a more logical choice despite his previous struggles to break into the first team. Boca president Jorge Junior Amaral recently compared Pratto’s situation to that of Lucas Viatri, who spent time on loan in Ecuador and Venezuela before returning to La Bombonera, where he has forged a respectable career for himself.
“Although he had few chances here, we always had confidence in him,” Amaral explained to Chilean publication La Tercera. “That’s why we continued giving him chances at other clubs, until he found his best. And luckily, at Catolica he found it. For goalscorers, you have to wait, because one never knows when they will explode.”
One potential stumbling block, though, is Catolica’s option to buy the player when his loan ends in June. The reigning Chilean champions, well-positioned to advance to the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals, can buy 80 per cent of the player for US$2 million, not a small sum for the Chilean league, but one that is certainly within Catolica’s reach. Even Amaral conceded that Boca’s decision regarding Pratto rests on what Catolica does with the player.
“It depends on what Catolica decides,” said Amaral. “If you put your money on it, they will keep Pratto. And if not, we will gladly welcome Lucas. It will be seen in June.”
Whether Pratto plays at Catolica or returns to Boca next season, he will surely be in the eyes of scouts across the Atlantic should he continue his goalscoring form. For now, the 23-year-old is in a team heavily favoured to retain their Chilean title and poised to make a shock run at the Copa Libertadores, the perfect stage to prove to the world he deserves his growing reputation.