If you were to name a poster boy for the phenomenon of promising young talents who join the game’s richest clubs only to find themselves spending more time watching soccer than playing it, Javier Pastore would be a perfectly credible choice. Now, after finally deciding to step out from the bejeweled cage he’d happily trapped himself in for all those years, we might at last see what a liberated Pastore can do in full flight. Hopefully it’s not too late.
Pastore was the pearl of Paris Saint-Germain’s first transfer market under their obscenely rich and shady new Qatari owners back in 2011. The then-22-year-old Argentine playmaker was coming off a star-making season in Italy with Palermo, where he wowed Serie A with 11 goals, five assists, and countless moments of unmistakable genius that had his impending greatness feeling practically inevitable. PSG paid about €40 million to acquire Pastore’s services—at that time the highest transfer fee ever spent by a Ligue 1 team on one player—and he was expected to be the cornerstone piece that would lead the club to all the human rights atrocity-blinding fame and aesthetic beauty and trophies PSG’s owners were willing to pay so dearly to possess.
His debut goal, a winner against Brest in his third league appearance, came from a little dink of a shot that beat multiple defenders and froze the keeper and sent the Parisians in attendance into raptures. It was the kind of goal that could only emerge from a uniquely, unpredictably brilliant player whose mind and body is constantly alive with new ideas and untried possibilities about how to solve the particular problem in front of him—solutions his more precedent-bound peers couldn’t even imagine, let alone execute—and it was exactly the kind of moment that made Pastore so electric:
Pastore’s ensuing years in Paris didn’t go as well as anyone would’ve liked. He did play a crucial role in the team during his first few seasons at PSG, and made at least 30 Ligue 1 starts in three of his first four years. However, a combination of injuries and his own limitations as a player and the club’s steady accretion of newer, better players in his positions greatly ate away at his playing time. Pastore only made more than a dozen starts in the league once over the past three years, and those 14 starts he got last season were more a reflection of PSG’s year-long midfield injury crisis than any real faith in Pastore’s abilities. Though Pastore made millions and millions of Euros and won a cabinet-load of trophies while on PSG’s payroll, he never developed into the dominant player he appeared on the path to becoming all those years ago.
Of course, Pastore’s decision to stick around in Paris after it was clear the club no longer counted on him to be a key player is perfectly fine. It’s his life, after all, and there are far worse fates than being a young and rich and famous and handsome man running around Paris for the better part of a decade, training for a few hours every weekday morning with a bunch of like-minded pals, watching elite soccer games from the best seat in the house on weekends, not-infrequently going out there on the pitch yourself to save the day by doing the thing you were born to do, and all the while watching the heap of cash in your bank account grow from a sizable hill to an enormous mountain. Still, the perspective of the fan is from the perspective of the sport itself, and Pastore’s contentment with wiling away the bulk of his prime years in exchange for filthy riches rather than merely dirty riches is an abdication of the moral duty to maximize and showcase that vanishingly rare quality he was so generously bestowed: talent.
Thankfully though, Pastore finally has left the stifling constraints of PSG, and it might not be too late for something of a career resurrection. Roma signed Pastore away from Paris this summer, and as this stunning back-heel volley he scored against Atalanta on Monday shows, he might still have enough of that old spark to shine at a level somewhat approximating what he could’ve been had his playing career involved more, you know, actual playing:
Pastore is 29 now, and while that isn’t exactly old, he only has but so much time left at his physical peak to pull himself back into consistently good form. As much as the rust and age will probably affect his efforts to get back on track, it’s his injury history that’s most worrying. More likely than not, Pastore will not and probably even could not reach the stardom status he seemed destined for back in Palermo and during his best stretches in Paris. And even if he does manage it, he almost certainly won’t be able to stay at that level for long.
But still. Look at that goal again. Think about the unencumbered creative mind it took to envision scoring like that, and the confidence required to give it a go, and the coordination and timing and delicate touch it took to clack his heels like Fred Flinstone and send a flying ball into the far corner of a guarded goal. If Javier Pastore can still do that, it’s not crazy to hold out hope that he can continue pulling off similar feats of wonder befitting the oodles of talent and skill that still lie there inside him, just waiting to burst forth.