Gago making waves

Fernando Gago has steadily grown in prominence at the Bernabeu since arriving from Boca Juniors just over two years ago, consistently turning in displays that suggest he is finally starting to live up to his huge potential, writes Phil Medlicott.

Given the rave reviews he has earned for his creativity in the Real Madrid midfield this season, it should come as no surprise that Fernando Gago is a lover of the arts.

The Argentina international midfielder, whose first thought after joining Madrid in 2006 was to visit the city’s famous Prado Museum, has been exhibiting his own array of talents recently as Juande Ramos’ rejuvenated side keeps the pressur e on Barcelona at the top of the Spanish Primera Liga.

Nicknamed ‘El Pintitar’ (The Painter), Gago has made an artform of marrying attacking innovation and defensive grit, with a series of influential performances that have helped Madrid to a 13-match unbeaten run in the league.

Gago, 22, has steadily grown in prominence at the Bernabeu since arriving from Boca Juniors just over two years ago and has flourished under Ramos, consistently turning in displays that suggest he is finally starting to live up to his huge potential.

The omens that Gago would be a star of the Madrid midfield were positive from his very earliest playing days — as a youngster he played at Buenos Aires club Parque, where Real legends Fernando Redondo and Esteban Cambiasso, the two players he is most frequently compared to, also started their careers.

He moved on to the Boca Juniors youth system, making his senior debut in December 2004, and over the next two years became one of the centrepieces of a team that won five titles in as many competitions. Gago increased his stock during the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup where Argentina won with a team that also included Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero and went on to make his full international debut in February 2007.

By that point he was, like Messi and Aguero, a La Liga player, arriving at Madrid in December 2006 for around 20 million euros (GBP18.4 million) with heady endorsements ringing in his ears.

Madrid president Ramon Calderon had fought off competition from Barcelona and AC Milan to secure the services of Gago, then 20, whom he described as “one of the best midfielders in the world.”

Redondo said that his heir apparent was a “player I would always want on my team. He has all the characteristics of my type of midfielder. He goes all out, keeps his head held high, and is great at reading the game.”

Even the great Diego Maradona, who would later take charge of Argentina, said Gago “should never be left off the national team.”

Following hot on the heels of compatriot Gonzalo Higuain, Gago was viewed as an important part of the new generation of talent that would succeed Madrid’s squad of ageing ‘Galacticos’.

He made a poor start on his debut in January 2007, substituted after being at fault for one of the goals in a 2-0 defeat to Deportivo La Coruna. But as Madrid’s performances picked up that year, so too was Gago increasingly allowed to demonstrate his ability to combine workman-like graft with attacking vision.

The Argentine set up Roberto Carlos for a late winner in the 3-2 win against Recreativo Huelva that proved vital in the team’s late charge towards the Spanish title and the following season he cemented his place in the first team, overtaking Mahamadou Diarra as first choice in the Madrid midfield as it won a second successive La Liga trophy.

This season started less positively for Gago, who missed most of the opening three months with an injury as Madrid’s form slumped under Bernd Schuster. But Ramos has orchestrated a dramatic turnaround in the club’s fortunes since taking over in December, overseeing 12 wins in 14 league matches to revive hopes of overhauling Barcelona to notch an improbable third consecutive title.

And with the artist Gago pulling the strings in the midfield, Madrid will surely still be in the frame come the end of the season.

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