Louis van Gaal's men were linked with a move for Benfica's Enzo Perez, but the Argentine is poised to join Valencia next month. Tom Kundert tells the Reds what they could have won...
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- Date of birth: February 2, 1986
- Place of birth: Maipú, Argentina
- Height: 5ft 9in
- Current club: Benfica; 114 apps, 10 goals (soon to be Valencia)
- Former clubs: Godoy Cruz, Estudiantes
- Honours: Godoy Cruz: Primera B Nacional 2005/06; Estudiantes: Copa Libertadores (2009), Apertura (2010); Benfica: Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal, Taça da Liga, Primeira Liga Player of the Year (2013/14)
When Argentine Enzo Perez went AWOL in his first season at Benfica, it looked like a familiar story of an expensive South American star failing to adapt to the European game. The Portuguese club had splashed out what for them was a sizeable fee of over €5 million for the winger, but a serious knee injury sustained in one of his first games, along with the player’s public assertions that he was missing home, did not bode well for a happy or lasting relationship.
That was when Benfica coach Jorge Jesus decided to move Perez from the flank to the centre. It proved a masterstroke. For three straight seasons Perez has shown indefatigable energy allied to a typically Argentine tenaciousness and bite in the tackle, combined with sound technique and perfect tactical awareness. As Benfica stormed to an unprecedented domestic treble and run to the Europa League final in 2013/14, the central midfielder was unanimously considered player of the season in Portugal.
Manchester United had been linked with a swoop for the talented star, only for Valencia to announce a deal to bring him to Mestalla next month subject to a medical.
Why you need to know him
It comes as no surprise to Portuguese football followers that Nemanja Matic has been such a big hit since his switch from Benfica to Chelsea – the Serbian formed an outstanding partnership with Perez at the heart of the Lisbon club’s midfield.
Matic’s machine-like patrolling of the space in front of the defence may be more eye-catching, but many in Portugal are of the opinion that it's Perez who has been the true heartbeat of a great Benfica side from 2012-2014.
When Perez plays well, Benfica play well. And the World Cup finalist almost always plays well. Moreover, the bigger the game, the more Enzo thrives, as exemplified by his memorable strike (after bamboozling now-Tottenham centre-back Eric Dier) to effectively kill off Benfica’s only rivals for last season’s championship, Sporting, in the Lisbon derby.
Perez always seems to be in the right place at the right time, which is testament to his football intelligence given that he spent his formative years and the first half of his career as a winger. Benfica boss Jesus recognised that his considerable talents were better utilised in the middle of the park, where he would be permanently involved.
It is a common sight to see the naturally aggressive Perez rob the ball in the defensive third and dribble deep into opposition territory before delivering an accurate pass. His incredible work-rate and never-say-die attitude are added bonuses.
You can take an Argentine out of Argentina, but you can’t take Argentina – or that hot South American blood – out of an Argentine. Perez picks up cards (and subsequent suspensions) with metronomic consistency, and sometimes lets himself be distracted by personal battles. In what could have been his final game in a Benfica shirt last Thursday, Perez and Braga’s Ruben Micael seemed more intent on kicking lumps out of each other than anything else.
“Perez is an excellent attacker and makes an important contribution defensively. He’s a complete footballer. It’s always good to have these kinds of players as team-mates,” said fellow Argentina international Nicolas Otamendi, in an attempt to help lure his compatriot to join him at Valencia. Luckily for him, the charming worked.
Did you know?
Perez was named after a football idol… from Uruguay. His football-obsessed family were huge fans of Buenos Aires club River Plate, for whom Enzo Francescoli was a personal hero of his father’s. So when his son came into the world there was only one name going on that birth certificate.
- Shooting 7
- Heading 6
- Passing 7
- Tackling 8
- Pace 6
- Dribbling 7
- Creativity 6
- Work-rate 9
What happens next?
The 28-year-old’s departure from Benfica was inevitable, and in this transfer window too. Rumours that Valencia were primed to swoop had rumbled on since the summer, so this week's announcement came as little surprise. Their Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo made no secret of his admiration for the player he knows well from his time coaching in Portugal – Perez was influential as Benfica beat Nuno’s Rio Ave in two domestic cup finals last season.
However, Valencia have been ‘burned’ before when a transfer from Benfica seemed all set to go ahead, Simao Sabrosa deviating to Atletico at the last minute in 2006. So, Louis, if you fancy rocking the boat a bit...