By Ralph Hannah in Asuncion
While the Barcelona star was in the Far East conquering the world, Lionel Messi’s cousin was winning the hearts of millions of fans as he helped Paraguayan side Olimpia lift their first league championship for 11 years.
Maximiliano Biancucchi has certainly had a different career to his relative in Barcelona but for a moment on Sunday he proved he certainly has some of ‘La Pulga’s’ DNA with a beautifully taken goal in the 2-1 victory over Rubio Nu.
The 27-year-old controlled a lofted ball from the excellent Sergio Orteman on his chest before firing home a left-footed scissor kick to open the scoring in a game Olimpia had to win to clinch the title.
The goal culminated a fantastic finish to what has been a roller-coaster year for the diminutive forward. He joined Olimpia in January, after spells of varying success at San Lorenzo, Flamengo, Cruz Azul and several Paraguayan clubs. He found himself immediately on the bench, as both Pablo Zeballos and countryman Juan Carlos Ferreyra were preferred to him in the starting line-up. But he made his mark coming on as a sub in the superclasico against Cerro Porteno in February by setting up Zeballos for the winning goal.
Far From the Camp Nou | Biancucchi's team-mates celebrate in front of the Olimpia faithful
His mazy run was reminiscent of Messi, who had been watching the game from Spain to see his cousin play that day. After the game Biancucchi spoke to Paraguayan radio and revealed, “He [Messi] watched the clasico on the internet and he was very pleased. He said he liked the game and how I played.”But Biancucchi was unable to stake his place in the first team as injury and the emergence of Luis Caballero from the youth ranks saw him spend more time on the bench. Things reached a low in late September when club president Marcelo Recanate allegedly called him a ‘rebel’ and said his disruptive attitude was what had kept him out the team until then.
With Zeballos leading the goalscoring charts and Caballero picked for the national side it seemed ‘Maxi’ was set for reserve team football. By November he had made just three starts in Olimipia’s first 15 games. Then came another superclasico and Biancucchi was controversially picked by manager Gerardo Pelusso over Zeballos. After that, he started Olimpia’s final six games all of which the team won, and Biancucchi helped himself to three goals during the club's victorious run-in.
'Maxi' proved he still had the hunger for success, having previously won the league with Luque in 2007, and although he may be a long way away from equalling his cousin’s trophy haul of 20 titles, it will certainly be a very merry Christmas for these two talented ambassadors of Argentine football abroad.