Time running out for Javier Pastore
While most of his teammates return late from their extended holidays because of World Cup duty, Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine international Javier Pastore has been back in training since the start of preseason after failing to secure a place in La Albiceleste's 23-man squad for Brazil.
To say that he narrowly missed out is untrue, because he was nowhere near the now departed coach Alejandro Sabella's plans. A massive fall from grace has meant that Pastore has completely dropped off the international radar -- not having featured since a 1-1 draw with Bolivia in 2011 -- and his participation at the 2015 Copa America in Chile is in doubt.
In order to have any hope of making the squad for next summer's tournament, he simply must deliver this season from start to finish.
Pastore's international future is not all that's in question -- his stay in the French capital also depends on his ability to produce his best Ligue 1 season. Otherwise it could be his last, after two disappointing campaigns from the enigmatic playmaker.
Recently, PSG have been linked with a 60 million Euro move for Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria, and one of the players the Argentine World Cup star would push further into the Parc des Princes shadows -- if he arrives -- is his compatriot Pastore. However, the signing of the man known in the Spanish capital as el Fideo (the noodle) would realistically require PSG to sell one or more of their current stars in order to remain within UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) limits.
The two most obvious candidates are Argentine duo Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi. However, the former's agent -- Marcelo Simonian -- has insisted his client is going nowhere this summer , despite reported interest from Juventus.
Shifting the troubled 25-year-old will be difficult -- if not impossible -- for PSG anyway. His value has plummeted since his 42 million Euro arrival from Palermo in 2011. Instead, PSG will have to persevere with their damaged investment and hope he becomes good again.
A change in formation will help. This season, Laurent Blanc's side are expected to line up in attack with both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in the middle -- where possible -- in order to satisfy the Uruguayan's demands to play in his preferred position. This means that PSG could line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, which would feasibly see Pastore restored to his favoured No. 10 role behind two strikers. Blanc sees him as a possible option in his three-man midfield, but it is something that has only fleetingly worked.
El Flaco would not necessarily be the obvious choice to play in that role behind Ibrahimovic and Cavani, though. Lucas Moura enjoyed an excellent end to Ligue 1 last season and looks set to play a major role again this time around. The Brazilian would be the most fancied of all options to play behind the striker duo if Blanc no longer plays the same 4-3-3 style as last season.
With Moura currently injured and a number of players absent following the World Cup, Pastore needs to take advantage of the situation. Another slow start could cause him to fall down the pecking order once again and lose all hope of reclaiming his place on the Argentina squad.
Pastore has done well so far, scoring a clever goal in the 4-3 win over Videoton last weekend. He is expected to play a big part against Red Bull Leipzig this Friday, OGC Nice next week and Kitchee SC on the capital club's Asian Tour -- for which he is the commercial face -- before the Trophee des Champions clash with Coupe de France winners EA Guingamp in Beijing. He will hope to be involved in that match too.
There were fleeting moments of excellence last season -- a superb performance in the 3-1 Coupe de la Ligue quarterfinals and a sensational solo effort in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Chelsea -- but overall, it was not enough.
Pastore is capable of excellence but all too often fails to deliver, and PSG have been extremely generous with their patience so far. With the French champions now under considerable pressure because of recent financial fair play restrictions , Pastore's margin for error is considerably lower coming into the new season.