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George Hasenecz looks at the meteoric rise of Argentina's young centre-back Ezequiel Garay, who recently signed on at Spanish giants Real Madrid...

Particulars

Name: Ezequiel Marcelo Garay
Date of Birth: October 10, 1986
Place of Birth: Rosario (Argentina)
Height: 1.89 meters
Weight: 83 kilos
Position: Defender

Background


At the ripe age of 18, Ezequiel Garay made his professional debut in 2004 for his home town club, Newell’s Old Boys, in the Argentine Primera.  His first match was an important one against Gimnasia where he helped Los Leprosos clinch the Apertura championship.   

His profile was raised even higher in 2005 where he was a part of Argentina’s U-20 World Cup winning side which included such young stars like Lionel Messi, Sergio Arguero, Fernando Gago and Oscar Ustari.  Garay made 12 more appearances for Newell’s in 2005 and had the honor of scoring his first goal for the club in a 2-1 win over Central in the Rosario derby.  He ended up transferring to Racing Santander in the Spanish Primera in late 2005 after only making 13 appearances for Newell’s at the professional level.  

After a short and expected settling in period during his first partial season, Garay established himself as a first team regular for Racing that fall where he featured in central defense.  He started 30 of Racing’s 38 league matches in 2006/2007 where he not only provided tidy defending, but also displayed polished offensive skills as he netted nine goals that season.  Most of these came from the penalty spot as his ability to strike a free kick made him an unusual commodity, a talented defender who also had advanced technical skills.   

Once again, he displayed a knack for performing well in big situations as his initial strike for Racing was a beautiful free kick against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.  In the return fixture, he bagged a brace from the penalty spot in Racing’s memorable win over Los Blancos which, at the time, looked like it might derail Madrid’s bid for the Primera title that year.  Even more impressive in Garay’s performance was the fact that his mistake allowed Madrid to initially take the lead before his late game heroics helped Los Verdiblancos gain a memorable result.  Racing ended up finishing 10th that season which was their best finish since returning to the Primera in 2002.  His performance at the club level earned Garay a few call-ups to the senior Argentina national team where he expects to establish himself in central defense for the next World Cup.

The 2007/2008 season was a mixed bag for Garay at Racing.  While he played a large part in Racing finishing 6th in the Primera which secured a UEFA Cup spot for next season, injuries limited him to only playing in 22 league matches.  However, with his considerable talent as well as increased profile, he was already well on the radar screen of many top clubs.

Transfer


Garay has made such an impression on Real Madrid during his tenure in Spain that Los Merengues came calling well in advance of the summer transfer window.  On the day after the Primera season had ended, Madrid announced that they had agreed to terms with Racing on a transfer of Garay for a reported fee of 10 million Euros.  One aspect of the transaction that likely helped Madrid seal the deal is that Garay will be loaned back to Racing for the 2008/2009 season.  This will ensure that Garay gets first team football in the Primera as well as help Racing as they embark on European football this coming season.

However, with Fabio Cannavaro’s recent injury, Madrid is reportedly contemplating whether they take Garay this season rather than waiting a season.  If that’s the case, Madrid will have to cough up an additional one million Euros for his services.  In either case, Garay will join a growing Argentine contingent at the Bernabeu with Gago, Gabriel Heinze and Gonzalo Higuain already playing key roles with the club.

Other Buyers


Since the beginning of 2008, Garay has been linked with several clubs including Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Lyon, Tottenham and Newcastle.  Late in the season, Garay was strongly rumoured to be heading to the Camp Nou as Barcelona had many problems in central defense this year, but Madrid was able to pip their rivals in the end.

Future

Garay has agreed to a six year contract with Madrid which shows the commitment the team was willing to make to such a talented youngster.  With Cannavaro likely to be playing his last year at the Bernabeu, Garay is expected to serve as his replacement.  When included with other talented young defenders such as Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Miguel Torres, it’s easy to see why Bernd Schuster is so excited about Madrid’s future.

Did You Know?

Garay formed his impressive offensive skills at a young age by playing primarily as a striker.  He was then converted to defense at the professional level.

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