Locating his name on the teamsheet is a tougher task than spotting striped hero Wally in a red and white field. A peripheral figure under Doctor Petkovic this term, smart money suggests Mauro Zarate cannot wait for New Year’s Eve. The world will celebrate the arrival of 2013, the Argentine the opening of the January transfer window.
One Serie A appearance against Genoa totalling 68 minutes is all Zarate has mustered domestically. His European record is slightly better. A whistle-to-whistle outing versus Panathinaikos followed three substitute appearances, two of which saw Zarate enter the field as early as the 80th minute. Being a Europa League specialist says something about your squad standing. Being a Europa League benchwarmer further compounds the situation.
It is the continuation of a disastrous 18 months. Inter failed to take up their option to sign Maurito following his loan spell. In 22 Serie A appearances he scored just twice and looked a shadow of the player who burst on to the Italian scene. That shadow has further faded under Petkovic. There has even been a hint of disciplinary issues. Zarate was dropped for the trip to Pescara, with director Igli Tare then meeting with his agent.
It was not always this way. Zarate arrived in Rome on loan from Qatari club Al-Sadd in 2008-09. A stellar season ended with 13 goals and the Coppa Italia trophy. It convinced notoriously stingy Claudio Lotito to splash around €20m for his permanent signature. While unfair to label his entire Lazio stint as all-sad, he never again reached those initial heights. Three goals represented a meagre return the next campaign but as Lazio chased the Champions League in 2010-11 they were helped by Zarate’s nine strikes.
Delio Rossi got the best out of the dynamic figure and feels he has lost his way at Formello. “The problem with Zarate is that he is no longer himself. He has become distorted and today he’s an anonymous player.”
A figure of €8m has been floated about. Perhaps a shrewd investment for a clearly talented player, it could be calamitous given recent seasons. Nonetheless, there are interested parties. Zarate may swap one Stadio Olimpico for another. From the heart of the 1960 Summer Games, his new home could be the centre of the 2006 Winter Games. If he were to sign for Torino it would likely be on loan initially.
When asked about Zarate and Napoli’s Eduardo Vargas earlier this month, Toro boss Giampiero Ventura said: “They are excellent players. I like both of them. They have excellent technical abilities. It is too early to say anything conclusive though. January is still far away.”
The Granata link refuses to dissipate. Ex-Lazio and Torino defender Roberto Cravero believes a move north would suit the Argentine. “Zarate has undoubted quality. But he cannot express that at Lazio...I don’t think many people have enough confidence in the boy. For that reason, I think signing for Torino would be the right option. He would have the backing of the whole club, and would return to the great player we all know he can be.”
Would Toro suit the attacker? Zarate is at home in a front two, preferably starting on the left to cut inside on to his right foot. He can also operate in a wider position. He would be useful alongside Rolando Bianchi in Ventura’s attacking 4-4-2. Aside from the captain’s four goals, Toro struggle. Gianluca Sansone and Alessandro Sgrigna have netted once, Riccardo Meggiorini is yet to get off the mark and none possess the creativity of Zarate. Out wide Ventura balances temperamental figure Alessio Cerci with the harder-working Mario Santana on the left so may not want to alter that configuration.
The South American has been further linked to Genoa and Palermo, as well as internationally to Moscow pair Spartak and CSKA, plus Malaga and English duo Stoke City and Liverpool. At this stage Torino remains the most likely destination. Yet whether the Granata or elsewhere, Zarate has the opportunity to steady what is a stuttering career.