They say that the secret to success is to be ready when your opportunity comes. That would certainly apply to Giovani Lo Celso at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night.
Paris Saint-Germain’s performance in the Ligue 1 encounter against Lyon failed to meet the expectation level for a considerable amount of the game, with Lyon looking more likely to break the deadlock. PSG were in desperate need of a piece of magic and with Neymar, Mbappé and Cavani all on the pitch, unsurprisingly the moment eventually transpired.
But it arrived by the way of 21-year-old Argentine Giovani Lo Celso just three minutes after replacing Julian Draxler. The Argentine, despite officially joining PSG in July 2016 from Rosario Central, had gone under the radar since arriving in the French capital back in January after a 5 month loan back to Rosario.
I was at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night to see his outrageously sassy piece of skill that left Lyon right-back Kenny Tete in a heap, only to then cross for Edinson Cavani who steered home via Lyon’s Jérémy Morel.
In the stands, there was relief, jubilation but moreover, there was a sense of delight that Lo Celso had finally announced himself in Paris.
To announce yourself to the football world isn’t easy, it’s not always about scoring big goals at big moments like Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen once did; sometimes an unexpected piece of brilliance to help your team win a match can suffice.
After all, we’d all heard the superlatives thrown his way by the Argentine media but in truth, besides a couple of appearances in the Rio Olympics in 2016, there was scant evidence of the newest protégé out of the footballing hotbed of Rosario.
After arriving in Paris, attacking midfielder Lo Celso, played a combined total of just 81 minutes of Ligue 1 football in 19 games between January and May 2017 and in 8 of those games he was unable to even make the match day squad as Unai Emery projected a slow, uncomplicated adaptation period to European football.
Fast forward four months and the signs so far this season point to Lo Celso being a significant part of Emery’s plans as PSG target success on four fronts.
The former Rosario Central man has featured in the last four games for PSG in Ligue 1 and was introduced late on in the resounding 5-0 Champions League defeat of Celtic. He has been able to show his versatility by slotting into midfield during the win at Metz as well as taking up a more attack minded position as he did in Glasgow.
So what has changed this season and how is Lo Celso breaking the seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling?
Firstly, the loan of Gonçalo Guedes to Valencia, another attacking midfielder who coincidentally arrived at PSG at more or less the same time as Lo Celso, has opened the door to more game time for the Argentine. Last season it was Guedes who was favoured by Emery to claim the remaining scraps of minutes available.
Likewise, Lucas Moura who has significantly slipped down the pecking order at PSG after being primed to be the makeweight in Kylian Mbappé’s move to the capital. Lo Celso has now found himself well ahead of the Brazilian in the pecking order.
Add to this, an exemplary attitude to his adaptation and learning the Emery way, patience and an infectious jovial personality around the squad; something his teammate Hatem Ben Arfa could learn from.
So after 8 months in Europe, maybe now is the time where we will see the fruits of his labour with Emery’s ever-increasing confidence in him.
Whilst much of the expectation will be placed upon the shoulders of PSG’s big front three, there will be times this season where PSG will need somebody else to step up and create that game-changing moment of magic and Sunday night’s offering from Lo Celso will certainly have made his teammates sit up and take notice.
As for the rest of the season ahead, Lo Celso will be looking for more game time to show his ability, particularly in the domestic cup competitions where he will be pushing for starts. He has set the bar for himself and the PSG faithful will hope for more moments of brilliance.
He is in an extremely unique and enviable position within the squad as he one of the few players at PSG who will be afforded the chance to play and develop with minimal pressure. His transfer fee was low (reportedly £8.5m) and there are no huge expectations placed on his young shoulders unlike many of his teammates. However, if PSG unearth a gem in Lo Celso, this could be pound-for-pound one of the smartest pieces of business done at the Parc des Princes since the Oryx Qatar Sports Investments takeover in 2011.
The man from Rosario, Argentina, a city that has provided world-class talent such as Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, will also look to add goals to his game. This still remains one of the biggest flaws for a player who plays in such an advanced position. He found the net just 3 times in 2 years at Rosario and is still yet to get off the mark in Paris.
Despite the praise, nonetheless, Perspective is needed. Lo Celso still needs time to grow and learn. He produced a moment of magic but he will know that he needs to build on last night’s cameo to ensure he stays in Emery’s plans long-term. There will be no better place for him to do develop right now than at PSG around stars such as Neymar, Cavani and Verratti; compatriots, Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore as well as a plethora of Spanish speaking teammates.
The future could be very bright for the Argentine, his progress and Emery’s utilisation of the youngster throughout the season could be interesting viewing.