Juan Martin Lucero: Profiling the bomber set to blitz Malaysian rearguards in 2016

The striker is ready to supply Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) some South American flair going forward as they look to defend their Malaysia Super League (MSL) title. Marcus Haydon looks at why it's right to be excited about the Argentine.

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  • Date of birth: November 30, 1991
  • Place of birth: Mendoza, Argentina
  • Height: 5ft 9in
  • Position: Centre-forward/attacking midfielder
  • Current club: Johor Darul Ta'zim (0 apps, 0 goals)
  • International: Argentina (N.A.)

The journey from Argentina to Malaysia may not seem like one of football’s more obvious career paths, but JDT are certainly trying to make it one.

The club’s latest recruit, Juan Martin Lucero from Independiente, is the latest in a series of Argentines who have made the trip to Johor, replacing the now-retired Luciano Figueroa, who in turn followed in the footsteps of compatriots Pablo Aimar, Patito Rodriguez and Leonel Nunez.

JDT’s past experiences appear to have persuaded them to retain faith in sourcing talent from Argentina and in Lucero they have themselves a player who, whilst certainly not being a star back home, has proven himself to be a capable striker with a respectable goalscoring record.

At Independiente, Lucero was primarily a squad player, playing a bit-part role last season as the club fell just short of qualifying for a place in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League.

In that respect, his departure has not come as a great surprise. And while he may have started the club’s last league game against Belgrano on Sunday, it felt inevitable that he would depart ever since the club recruited veteran striker German Denis, a fan favourite who is returning home after nearly a decade in Europe, and Leandro Fernandez, a prolific goalscorer for Godoy Cruz, in recent weeks.

Why you need to know him

Lucero’s career progression has been low profile. Born in the foothills of the Andes, close to the city of Mendoza, he left home aged 13 and crossed the country in order to seek opportunities in the capital Buenos Aires.

Nicknamed El Gato (The Cat) due to his slim and agile build, Lucero is a player who is most at home in the opposition penalty box.

There he earned himself a chance at Defensa y Justicia, a tiny club located on the southern edge of the city where he worked his way through their youth ranks.

He made his debut in 2010, aged 18, in the country’s second division, but did not really establish himself as a starter for the Falcons until a breakthrough in the 2013-14 season, when he hit 24 goals in 37 games to earn Defensa their first ever promotion to the Argentine top flight.

That form attracted the attention of Independiente, one of the country’s ‘Big Five’, who had also been playing in the second division after being relegated for the first time in their history.

Since moving to El Rojo, Lucero has struggled to nail down a first-team spot, appearing as a substitute in almost half of the 33 appearances he made for the Avellaneda side. Taken in that context, his record of nine goals in 18 starts is not a poor return.

When he has been used, Lucero has typically been employed as a lone striker in coach Mauricio Pellegrino’s preferred 4-2-3-1, acting as the attacking spearhead of the team.

Credit: JDT

Last week, it emerged that Lucero was set to leave Independiente, with several Argentine and Uruguayan clubs touted as potential suitors. However, as has become increasingly common in South America over recent years, an offer from an emerging football economy has proven more persuasive than anything that can be offered locally and Lucero has made the move to Asia.

Among supporters of the club his departure has been met with the disappointment of losing a reliable squad member, though that has been balanced against the feeling they got a very good fee for a player who is not integral to the first-team.

Indeed, a poll run on one popular fan site suggested that 91 per cent of supporters were satisfied with the terms of the deal.

Lucero has typically been employed as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, acting as the attacking spearhead of the team, to date.


Nicknamed El Gato (The Cat) due to his slim and agile build, Lucero is a player who is most at home in the opposition penalty box.

His movement is clever and can result in a number of his goals looking deceptively straightforward, having given his marker the slip. His technique is of a good level and finishing is generally accomplished.

He has been known to play as an attacking midfielder, but in truth his best position is as a No.9, either with a partner to play off, or as a lone striker. He plays well on the shoulder of the last defender and thrives on finding spaces in the penalty area when play is developed in wide areas.

“If I have to pay attention to somebody in my position then I choose Gonzalo Higuaín and David Trezeguet,” says Lucero.


Despite being fairly tall, Lucero can find life tough against a big, physically robust opponent. To best utilise him, a team should avoid asking him to go into direct combat and instead employ him as a threat in behind the opponent.

His back-to-goal play is not a clear weakness, but he is really comfortable with basic link-up play and will not change the direction of play with a dropped shoulder or a prodigious piece of skill.

Did you know?

Despite going on to represent Independiente, Lucero grew up in a family of Racing Club fans, Independiente’s fierce local rivals.

They said...

“We feel that he is the player most suitable for us,” said JDT owner Tunku Ismail Ibrahim when announcing Lucero’s arrival. “Having a young player is always good because they have value and they can be considered as our club’s asset.”

Credit: JDT

“The Cat of Malaysia” read the headline in Argentine sports daily Ole as they adapted the title of Emilio Salgari’s famous ‘The Tigers of Malaysia’ series of novels.

What happens next?

This appears to be a transfer that suits all parties. Independiente have received a good fee for a player they were not desperate to retain, while JDT have a player who has shown himself to be a capable top division player in Argentina. The main determinants as to whether Lucero proves to be a success will boil down to the player’s attitude and adaptability.

We feel that he is the player most suitable for us.

- JDT owner Tunku Ismail Ibrahim on Lucero

After moving to Malaysia, Lucero’s now-teammate and compatriot Jorge Pereyra Diaz gave an interview to Ole in which he described football in Malaysia as “very basic” and “tactically very poor”, before claiming that he missed football at home.

The challenge for Lucero will be in ensuring that he remains fully focused and motivated, challenging himself to adapt to the differences in style and approach at his new club. If he can do that then JDT have a player more than capable of making a mark on the MSL.