Goal.com 50: Mauro Zarate (26)

Goal.com continues to count down our 50 best players of 2008-09, and at No. 26 is one of Lazio’s mercurial youngsters Mauro Zarate...
  27. Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid & France)

26. MAURO ZARATE (Lazio)

25. Diego Milito (Inter & Argentina)

This time last year, Mauro Zarate was ready for a return to Al Sadd after his loan deal with Birmingham City was brought to an immediate end following the Blues' relegation into the Championship. No sooner had the ‘El Pibe de Haedo’ packed his bags, he found himself with another loan deal this time on the blue side of the Italian capital.

Although a rather unknown quantity when he arrived at Lazio, Mauro Zarate wasted little time in showing his desire to take centre stage with the Biancocelesti. After Tommaso Rocchi picked up an injury whilst on international duty at the Olympics, Zarate was handed his chance and he duly took it with both hands.

As Lazio went into the break 1-0 down to Cagliari on the first day of the season nobody could have predicted what was to come in what looked like another disappointing opening for the Biancocelesti. After levelling the scoring from the spot on 62 minutes it took 'Maurito' just nine minutes to invent his first piece of magic producing a sublime chip to lob Marchetti from the tightest of angles.

After scoring twice on his debut Zarate went on to continue his dream introduction into the Italian championship terrorising opposition defences and finding the net six times in the opening five rounds. His spectacular beginning gifted Lazio their best start to a Serie A campaign for a decade, and ‘The Zarate Kid’ earned instant legendary status amongst the Curva Nord faithful.

With Tommaso Rocchi out injured, Zarate and Pandev began to form an explosive strike partnership and Lazio began to shape up as one of the surprise packages of the season. However it was not long before the Lazio captain made his return to action, and shortly after Zarate’s form began to dip after coach Delio Rossi opted to utilise an attacking trident. The early karma between Pandev and Zarate had been interrupted and 'Maurito' was finding it harder to get near the box as he had done in the opening rounds.

Who's a champ? | Zarate celebrates derby strike

As a number of players began to criticise the mercurial youngster for his lack of passing, Zarate slowly started to find his form and began to show his best once again. With the season drawing to its business end, Zarate managed to produce a number of match winning performances which increased his rating to phenomenon status.

His finest moment came on April 11th when Lazio hosted arch rivals Roma in the Derby della Capitale. With Rome’s other no. 10 declaring Zarate was not a true champion in the days preceding the encounter, 'Maurito' responded in stylish fashion scoring a wonder strike just four minutes into the game stunning Roma and silencing the doubters.

With Lazio reaching the final of the Coppa Italia just a month later Zarate yet again took centre stage and scored an almost carbon copy of his derby wonder strike. With the game billed up as a showdown between himself and Cassano, the Argentinian had once again proved he could stand up when it counted showing the makings of a true champion. As Lazio lifted their first piece of silverware since the glory days of the Cragnotti era, all eyes looked to Zarate following his incredible debut season with the Biancocelesti.

Shortly after the Coppa Italia triumph 'El Pibe De Haedo' was rewarded with a five year contract worth €2m a season. Claudio Lotito had dug deep to forward Al Sadd the €20m required to activate the buyout clause in Zarate’s contract and the Argentinian was finally a Lazio player to full effect.

Zarate had finally arrived on the European stage and if should can carry on where he left off last season, he could well go on to earn a call up for Maradona’s Argentina squad in time for South Africa 2010.

2008-09 HONOURS

Coppa Italia, 2009

Stefano Federici, Goal.com

  27. Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid & France)

26. MAURO ZARATE (Lazio)

25. Diego Milito (Inter & Argentina)