Back in Barca spotlight

Javier Saviola had done enough to earn a place in the Argentina squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and after he shone in pre-season, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard seemed happy to give him another chance, writes Andy Hampson.

Javier Saviola, Argentina's World Cup striker, is now looking to re-establish himself at Barcelona after spells on loan at Monaco and Sevilla.

Saviola was a precocious teenager and seemed destined to become a world star. A native of Buenos Aires, Saviola was in the River Plate team by the age of 16.

He needed little time to find his feet and was South American Footballer of the Year in 1999 after helping River to the Apertura title with 18 goals. River won the Clausura in 2000 with Saviola again prolific, and the following year he set a new record as top-scorer with 11 goals as Argentina won the FIFA World Youth Championship.

A move to a top European club was inevitable and Barcelona proved to be his destination in a GBP16.7 million deal in the summer of 2001. He had scored 44 goals in 86 appearances for River and made an instant impact at Barca, becoming the new darling of the Nou Camp with 17 goals in his first season in Spain.

Remarkably, Argentina could not find a place for him in their squad for the 2002 World Cup. After their premature exit at the group stage, coach Marcelo Bielsa may have regretted that, but he had an outstanding list of players to choose from.

After that Saviola started to run into difficulties at Barca. He scored only two goals in the first half of the following season and then, despite netting 14 in the 2003-04 campaign, new coach Frank Rijkaard deemed him surplus to requirements.

He won the Olympic gold with Argentina in 2004 but was sent on loan for a season to Monaco, where he scored 11 goals.

With Rijkaard not much interested in bringing him back after that, another loan move followed to Sevilla where again he did not score regularly but played well enough as the club won the Uefa Cup.

He had done enough to earn a place in the Argentina squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and after he shone in pre-season, Rijkaard seemed happy to give him a chance. That proved a shrewd decision when star striker Samuel Eto'o was struck down by serious injury early in the season.

Saviola is now again a regular member of the Barca squad but is in the last year of his contract. He has already been linked with a number of clubs if the Catalan giants decide not to offer him a new deal.

It seems that since Diego Maradona, every promising Argentinian youngster is saddled with the label of being the country's next big thing. Saviola certainly showed plenty of potential as a teenager and Barcelona were more than willing to pay for it. Since then realism has touched home, as he has certainly not matched the high expectations there were for him.

Perhaps he was never really given the licence he needed to express himself by Barca in his first few years there and has been playing catch-up since. He has now slipped down the pecking order for his country but is still a fine player and there is surely plenty to come from him.

Saviola's love life has been the subject of speculation during his time in Spain because of his perceived eligibility. He does have a girlfriend though, named Maria Sol.

Saviola has maintained a down-to-earth attitude throughout his career despite his celebrity status. He showed that at the age of 20 when an incredulous interviewer asked why he still drove a Peugeot 206 when he could obviously afford much better. "So what," he said. "It is a good car for a 20-year-old." Apparently he still has the same car.

Factfile

Name: Javier Saviola Position: Striker Club: Barcelona Date Of Birth: 11/12/1981 Argentina Caps: 35 Argentina Goals: 10 Argentina Debut: v Paraguay, August 2000

Moment to remember

Saviola fulfilled his dream this summer _ some would feel he should have had the opportunity four years ago _ when he featured for Argentina at the World Cup in Germany. He made his impression on the tournament with a neat flick to score in his side's first match against the Ivory Coast, and also shone in the stunning 6-0 win over Serbia & Montenegrothat had many believing Argentina would win the event.

Moment to forget

Saviola could only watch as Argentina's World Cup hopes came to an end with a quarter- final defeat to hosts Germany on penalties in Berlin. Despite starting three of the previous four matches he was left on the bench and did not get onto the pitch as the Germans held firm and won through in heartbreaking fashion.

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