Manuel Veth –
Eduardo Vargas is a bit of a legend in his native Chile. The 27-year-old has always been prolific playing for La Roja, and was a key player in his country’s 2015 Copa América, and 2016 Copa América Centenario victories.
Speaking to the Futbolgrad Network, Adam Brandon, who is a specialist on Chilean football for the World Football Index, explains that Vargas is a popular player. That is, with the half of the country that supports Vargas’ former club Universidad de Chile—one of the two most popular clubs in the country.
Colo-Colo fans, who are Universidad’s biggest rivals, on the other hand, have always criticized Vargas. The criticism aside, there is no doubt that he has been a prolific player for his country—he has scored 32 goals in 68 games. Vargas, however, failed to impress on the club level. In the summer of 2015, Hoffenheim signed the forward from SSC Napoli.
Hoffenheim was already Vargas’ fourth club in Europe
It was Vargas’ fourth club in Europe—as well as a brief loan spell in Brazil with Grêmio—since making the move from Universidad de Chile to Napoli in the summer of 2012. The truth is, he never got sufficient time to develop in Italy, before Napoli sent him out on loan to the above-mentioned Grêmio, Valencia in Spain, and Queen’s Park Rangers in England.
Then, following a successful Copa América campaign in his native Chile, 1899 Hoffenheim were willing to give Vargas a chance. Signed for €6 million, Vargas was brought in, in part, to replace the recently departed Roberto Firmino, who was sold to Liverpool that summer for €41 million.
The first season in German football was a grim one for the Chilean forward. Hoffenheim struggled to get off to a solid start. The abstinence of Firmino was especially felt, and Hoffenheim won just two games in the Hinrunde.
As a result, head coach Markus Gisdol was replaced by Huub Stevens, who was brought in on an interims basis to save the club from relegation. Stevens, at least this was the plan, was supposed to stabilize the club, and then make room for the highly talented Julian Nagelsmann.
Chaos at Hoffenheim meant that Vargas was never integrated
Brought in in October, Huub Stevens, however, had to step down from coaching the club in February, due to a heart condition. As a result, Julian Nagelsmann, at the age of 28, became the youngest coach in Bundesliga history.
Nagelsmann did later save the club from relegation, but the constant coaching changes, meant that Hoffenheim never really played with one consistent tactic. Furthermore, once Nagelsmann took over, Vargas became more and more redundant in Hoffenheim’s new system.
Vargas was a consistent starter until matchday 20, but then in February with Hoffenheim making a significant push towards securing their position in the Bundesliga, Vargas saw his minutes diminish significantly. Always an explosive player, Vargas can be spectacular, but the problem was that his contribution to Hoffenheim’s relegation battle—just two goals and five assists in 24 games— was not good enough.
It was, therefore, no surprise that Nagelsmann started to rely on different players in his starting eleven. Then, in the summer, Hoffenheim sold Kevin Volland to league rivals Bayer Leverkusen for €20 million. Many expected that Vargas would end up replacing Volland.
On paper Vargas should have been a good match for Nagelsmann’s tactical approach
On paper Nagelsmann should have been a good match for Vargas. The young Hoffenheim head coach, after all, has similar tactical ideas to Jorge Sampaoli, the Chile manager who was key to Chile’s success in the 2015 Copa América.
According to Brandon, Sampaoli, like Nagelsmann, has a playbook of formations that switch all the time during the game. But, while Sampaoli built his system around Vargas, Nagelsmann seemed to have different ideas.
In the summer of 2016, Hoffenheim signed Sandro Wagner from Darmstadt 98 to help Nagelsmann to establish a 3-5-2 formation with two strong, and physical, number nines up front. Hoffenheim, those days could often be found playing with Wagner, and with either Mark Uth or Andrej Kramarić playing up front.
As a result, Eduardo Vargas was left somewhat out in the cold during the first half of the season. Hoffenheim hoped that he would respond to the new situation by working hard in training to adapt his playing style.
But the opposite was true, and reports from Hoffenheim suggested that Vargas responded by letting his shoulders hang in practice. The club, therefore, quickly came to the realization that Vargas would have to be sold in the winter transfer window both in order to salvage the €6 million spent on him, and also to ensure that Vargas’ attitude would not poison the dressing room.
Hoffenheim, therefore, sent Eduardo Vargas to the China Cup, where Chile played a winter cup with a reserve side (for more on the China Cup check out the World Football Index – South American Football Show). Hoffenheim hoped that Vargas would attract the interest of a Chinese Super League side, who would be willing to spent big time on a two-time Copa América winner.
Eduardo Vargas – Escape to Mexico
Vargas has indeed found a new club, but he will not follow the rich trail of the Silk Road to China, but instead will head to the new El Dorado in Latin America, the Liga MX, by joining the Monterrey-based Tigres UANL.
Tigres are the current Liga MX champion, and have built one of the most attractive sides in CONCACAF. Vargas will now join the likes of André-Pierre Gignac, and Jürgen Damm, as Tigres attempt to defend their Torneo Apertura in the Torneo Clausura stage of the 2016-17 Liga MX season.
Long-term Vargas could become the replacement for the above-mentioned Jürgen Damm, who has been outspoken about his desire to move to Europe at the end of the season. For Vargas, this could mean plenty of playing time in a competition that is slowly gaining a reputation as being one of the best outside of Europe.
Brandon believes that the move to Mexico could be the right one for a player, who has struggled to find regular playing time in Europe. Brandon thinks that the biggest factor was that Vargas fit perfectly in Jorge Sampaoli’s setup, which has now become the standard system for the Chilean national team.
Mexico could be the perfect move for him
Brandon also thinks that teammates are a big factor as well: “I think he suits how Chile have played in recent years and, at the club level, he has never played with anybody as good as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. He really thrived for club and country under Sampaoli. I think his pace is far more effective in South American football rather than Europe.”
Liga MX, of course, has a brand of football that is unlike any European or even South American league. Liga MX can be described as the league that has not yet invented defence. What this means is that clubs never try to slow down the game and, instead, the Mexican brand is known for its fast end-to-end plays.
This kind of football could be perfect for Vargas who, with his pace and his stamina that allows him to run endlessly, should become a quick attraction for Monterrey’s Tigres in particular, and for Liga MX in general.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, writer for Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.