Where did Lucas Vazquez come from? That is the question many in Spain are asking after the Real Madrid youngster seemingly came from nowhere to make Vicente del Bosque’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016.
Isco and Saul Niguez were the ones cut from the provisional squad when the majority of football analysts in the country had expected Del Bosque to chop Vazquez and one other. Instead, Vazquez will be the one spending his summer in France, even though he has never before played for his country at any age level.
Just a few months ago, Vazquez found himself warming the Real Madrid bench for Rafa Benitez. The Real Madrid youth team graduate had been playing at Espanyol the season before, but was brought back to the Spanish capital last summer to add depth to the squad. He played just 450 La Liga minutes out of 1,620 under Benitez, which was just 28%. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema ahead of him in the pecking order, who would have expected anything else?
Under Zinedine Zidane, however, things began to change. His playing time went up significantly, from 28% to 43% as he played 780 of the 1,800 La Liga minutes Real Madrid contested under their new Coach. He was also trusted by the Frenchman in the Champions League, most notably when he filled in capably in Ronaldo’s absence in the first leg of the semi-final against Manchester City and then in the final when he came on towards the end of the second half. When that final went to penalties, Zidane even trusted Vazquez to take the team’s first spot kick. There are few higher honours in football than having ‘Zizou’ believe in you in such an important moment. Sure enough, Vazquez slotted his kick away to send his team towards glory.
After lifting the Champions League trophy, his week got even better with this call-up to the Spain squad. Few are expecting Vazquez to get much playing time in France or to make much of a difference, but any doubters should know by now that this young man is not to be underestimated.
He has embraced every challenge he has faced this season and has played so well in Ronaldo’s absence that Real Madrid hardly even seemed to miss the three-time Ballon d’Or winner when he was out injured towards the season’s end. In fact, some would argue that it was an upgrade for Real Madrid to have Vazquez playing instead of Ronaldo in the away leg against Manchester City given that Vazquez is happy to track back and help his team defend. In Madrid’s previous European away leg, Ronaldo spent 0% of the match inside his own third and Los Blancos lost to Wolfsburg 2-0. Against City, though, Vazquez tracked back to his own third 14.3% of the time and played a significant part in the vital clean sheet.
At this summer’s championship, therefore, it would be no surprise if Vazquez continues his meteoric rise. He offers Del Bosque pace, goals, assists and, most importantly, a forward who can also come back and defend. Bet against Lucas Vazquez at your peril.