At the conclusion of the 2019/20 season, Marca ran their end of season awards based on votes from their readership. These issues are often split inevitably along the lines of club loyalties, but there was no questioning the “Signing of the Season award.” Over 120,000 votes were cast and the results were decisive – 38 percent of respondents voted for Sevilla forward Lucas Ocampos, 20 percent ahead of Real Madrid’s Ferland Mendy in second place.
The 26-year-old netted 14 goals and provided three assists in 33 La Liga appearances for the Andalusian club in his debut campaign. His arrival came in the first transfer window since sporting director Monchi’s return to the club. His two years away had seen Sevilla – whom he played a decisive role in establishing as one of Europe’s most efficiently run and routinely successful clubs – stray into errors in their sporting department. Significant amounts of money were spent on ill-advised transfers and coaching appointments, seeing the club fall out of La Liga’s top four in successive seasons and appear rather directionless.
Monchi wasted no time putting things back and carried out a total overhaul of his squad. 17 new players arrived last season alone and Sevilla were revolutionised once more. Not all signings were a success. Rony Lopes, Javier Hernandez, Moanes Dabbur and Maximilian Wöber – the last two signings were pre-agreed before Monchi – all made no impact and were swiftly moved on. But the arrivals of Sergio Reguilon, Diego Carlos, Jules Kounde and Fernando were all resounding successes, but it was the signing of Ocampos which stood above all else.
The Argentine arrived having already had somewhat of a nomadic playing career across River Plate, Monaco, Genoa, Milan and Marseille. Clearly a promising player, it appeared his career was starting to move sideways and he would not kick on to the potential which persuaded Monaco to part with €8m to sign him from Argentina as an 18-year-old.
Yet at Sevilla he found his home; a sporting director and a coach – Julen Lopetegui, who has salvaged his reputation following his short-lived Real Madrid nightmare – who trusted in his talent and developed his potential into the real deal.
Indeed, Ocampos made his international debut for Argentina last year – aged 25 – and is showing the form to establish himself as a regular for La Albiceleste, having netted twice in his three caps. He is a player who embodies a lot of what is captivating about Argentine football, his character is expressive and self-confident with an edge to his play. Ocampos is capable of combining his supreme level of talent with a street-wise attitude, knowing how to win cheap free kicks and infuriate opponents without ever crossing a line into nastiness.
As shown by Whoscored.com, his commitment is highlighted by his tackle count – averaging 1.6 per game in La Liga last season, with his final two seasons in France counting at 2.4 and 2.6 respectively – notably high for an attacking player. His number of fouls per game has ranged between 1.2 and 1.5 in the same period. His last two league seasons have seen him accumulate 19 yellow cards and one red. These help indicate the rawness to his play, but this is the ‘street footballer’ side to him and it can be argued it enhances and defines his quality, rather than detracts from it.
Across his last three seasons, his ‘key passes’ per game range between 0.7 and 0.9, while he averaged 2.5 shots per game in La Liga last season. He made 2.1 dribbles per game and drew 1.7 free-kicks of his own – again, relatively high numbers. This is a player who is an all-action figure, capable of playing across multiple attacking positions although finding his best form on the left of an attacking three; allowing him to drift inside onto his preferred right foot and make late runs into the box to meet the crossed deliveries of the rampaging Jesus Navas from the right flank.
He really is the man for all occasions though and he provided one of the unforgettable moments of last season. In Sevilla’s late-season clash with Eibar, the teams were separated by the Argentine’s first half goal going into the closing stages. With the game on a knife-edge, Sevilla goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik was injured and with no more substitutions allowed, Ocampos volunteered to go in goal. In a remarkable sequence of events, Eibar – throwing the kitchen sink for an equaliser – pushed goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic into the penalty area and the ball dropped at his feet. The Serbian shot-stopper steered an effort goalwards but was thwarted by the alert Ocampos, whose decisive stop earned the points.
⚽ 56′: Lucas Ocampos scores for Sevilla
🤕 100′: GK Tomas Vaclik goes off injured
🧤: 101′ Lucas Ocampos goes in nets and makes this match winning save!
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) July 7, 2020
Ocampos is establishing himself as a genuine star in La Liga and, potentially, at international level. Now aged 26, he is entering the prime years of his career and is now – after several years of admirable but slightly underwhelming performances – showing his true class in Seville. Any clubs who want a versatile forward who is all-action, street-wise and talent should look no further.
Colin Millar, author of The Frying Pan of Spain: Sevilla v Real Betis – Spain’s Hottest Football Rivalry.