Portrait of an icon: Lisandro López

Youssef Amin

Some players names are just synonymous with a club. When you hear the name Lionel Messi, you immediately think of Barcelona. The same goes for Lisandro López and Racing Club. One of the greatest players in Racing’s history and a player with a storied career.

Lisandro López was born on the 2nd of March 1982, in the small fisherman’s village of Rafael Obligado in the province of Buenos Aires. His father was a fisherman and as a child Lisandro was much more interested in fishing than football. Only playing football as a hobby for a small club in his village, called Newbery de Rojas. The talent was obviously there but the dedication and commitment to the game obviously wasn’t. He had already been approached by numerous scouts from some lower level clubs but he had rebuffed them time and time again stating that football was only a hobby.

Then he turned 18 in 2001 and things changed. He was invited to a trial by a Racing scout and after some encouragement by his family and some of his close friends he decided to go. He just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play for one of Argentina’s biggest clubs.

He passed with flying colours and joined Racing’s youth system, smashing in the goals and it was only a matter of time before he got his shot the big time. He made his debut on the 14th of June 2003, against Vélez Sarsfield. Who knew it was going to be such a big day in Racing Club’s history. He played twice more in the 2002-03 season not really leaving his mark, but his breakthrough was yet to come.

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The following season López became a regular in the Racing squad playing 31 games in the league and scoring eight goals. The fans were already fascinated by him and he was starting to gain some popularity. A few European club were looking at him and PSV even sent scouts over at the time when Eredivisie clubs were still actively recruiting from Argentina. There were never any moves made though and López continued with Racing for the following season.

The 2004-05 season really was his breakthrough and López was thrust into the limelight as a result of his remarkable exploits with Racing. Lisandro really started flourishing in the Racing team finishing as the Apertura’s top scorer with 14 goals and leading Racing to a very respectable third place finish. People started to realise just how good he was and he was already being labelled as a wonderkid. It was only a matter of time before he moved to Europe.

He got his move and he transferred to FC Porto for the bargain price of $2.3 million in 2005, which would later turn out to be a sound investment for them. The company who acted as his agents still kept 50% of his rights though and he wasn’t fully a Racing player.

His first season at Porto was something of a disappointment as he struggled to get used to life in a new country, as is often the case with South American footballers. There was still an element of doubt about him and some Porto fans were not completely convinced of his qualities, scoring only eight goals in all competitions that season.

Licha wouldn’t let that shake him though and he just kept on playing eventually winning the Porto fans hearts as they loved his quality and commitment to the cause. His strong mentality shone through and he was able to overcome adversity and cement his place as one of the top strikers in Europe.

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The following years were much more successful and it culminated in Lisandro winning the Primeira Liga top scorer in the 2007-08 season and winning the Footballer of The Year award in 2008 after scoring 24 goals in the league and leading Porto to the title. One more successful season at Porto followed where they once again won the league, this time adding the cup and eventually prompting a transfer to Lyon.

López joined Lyon for a club record fee of €24 million with another 4 million in add-ons. The most successful period in his career, at least individually had started. He was brought to replace the recently departed Karim Benzema and some may argue he even bettered him, still holding an iconic status at Lyon to this day.

He got off to a flying start, scoring on his debut against Le Mans, winning the game in the last minute and bagging a hat trick against Anderlecht in the playoffs for the Champions League.

Although his time at Lyon was sparse in terms of trophies as they only one the Coupe de France in 2012 in terms of individual honours it was littered with accolades as he won Player Of The Year in 2010, where he was also included in the Ligue 1 Team of The Year and finished second in the race for top goalscorer.

In his time at Lyon he amassed 82 goals in 166 appearances where he really became the talisman for an energetic young side. Things started to go downhill under Rudi Garcia though and he was shifted to the right wing to make space for Bafetembi Gomis. Lisandro was fed up of this situation and he eventually moved to Qatari side Al Gharafa for €7.25 million.

It looked as if he would see out his career in Qatar while earning a good amount of money. His quality shone in the modest Qatari league and he ended up scoring 20 goals in 40 games over the course of two seasons. He surprisingly terminated his contract in 2015 citing homesickness and wishing to return to South America.

Off he went to Internacional in Brazil, who were the first club to offer him a deal at the age of 32. He struggled massively in the Brasileiro and could only garner a measly four goals in 24 appearances until he was put out of his misery by the Brazilian club and his contract was terminated. It looked as if his career was coming to an ungainly end as he had been struggling for a few years now but once again Lisandro showcased his never say never mentality and refused to take the easy option and retire.

He was eventually offered terms by his boyhood club Racing and he was given one final chance to resurrect his career. After eleven years away, Licha had come back as a legend.

His impact on the club was obvious, he gave the Cilindro a lift. He regained the spirit of Racing. Amazing what one man could do. He also had a notable impact on Racing starlet Lautaro Martínez.

Licha has taken the promising striker under his wings and the improvement has been remarkable. He has matured and they have formed a deadly partnership up top together, arguably one of the best in the league. They complement each other perfectly, Lisandro cool, calm and technically gifted while Lautaro is youthful, pacey and a brilliant finisher.

A glance at Licha’s career stats may decieve you, his goal scoring record is nothing special but the impact he has had on every club he has joined in his career is brilliant. The time to call it a day may have become nearer for Lisandro but that doesn’t necessarily mean his career is finished. He will almost certainly step into some sort of coaching role with Racing after he is done, using his skills and experience to nurture and improve young players like he has done with Lautaro Martínez. A man who will forever be remembered as a Racing great.

Youssef Amin is a football writer and FM blogger. An Argieball faux expert and South American footy addict, Youssef also runs the Racing Club in English Twitter account

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