Franco Vázquez: How former Italian international El Mudo finally got Argentina shot

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After previously representing Italy, Franco Vázquez finally got the nod from his country of birth in Argentina’s latest squad and Jimmy Lee returns to take a closer look at the former Belgrano magician…

In March 2015, Franco Vázquez, who was playing at the time for Palermo in Italy, received a call from Antonio Conte. The coach of the Italian national team asked El Mudo (The Mute) to join Italy for the upcoming matches, a European Qualifier and a friendly. Vázquez had a decision to make, should he accept the opportunity to play for the country of his mother’s birth, or should he continue to hold out hope that someday, the nation of his birth, Argentina, would give him a chance?

El Mudo accepted Conte’s call and joined the Italian national team. He had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of fellow countryman, Mauro Camoranesi, who was also born in Argentina, but represented Italy on a national level and famously helped the Azzurri to the 2006 World Cup. 

Portugal v Italy - International Friendly

On March 28 2015, Vázquez sat on the bench as Italy drew with Bulgaria. Three days later, in a friendly against England, Franco made his debut for Italy. He would only make one other appearance, a friendly against Portugal in June 2015.

In August 2016, Vázquez told El Gráfico in Argentina, “I feel Argentine. When I had the chance to play for Italy, the former Argentina coach had shut his doors on me, and that’s why I accepted to play for them.”

Because Conte left El Mudo on the bench against Bulgaria and his only two appearances were in friendlies, Franco Vázquez remained eligible to play for Argentina. But the attacking midfielder played a similar position to other higher profile members of the Argentine national squad, including Lionel Messi, his hope of joining the team seemed unlikely. His best chance may have been when Jorge Sampaoli took over as coach, after all, Sampaoli managed Vázquez with Sevilla. When El Mudo was never called up by Sampaoli, his dream of ever playing for the nation of his birth took a major hit.

Franco Damián Vázquez was born on February 22, 1989, in the small town of Tanti, about an hour west of Córdoba, Argentina. As most young Argentines do, Franco developed a love for football from an early age. He started his career with the tiny Cordobés club, Barrio Parque. At the age of 16, he earned the interest of one of the largest clubs in Córdoba and joined Club Atlético Belgrano. 

Franco played for the lower levels of the club for two years when on September 17, 2007, at the age of 18, he was called up to the first team for a match against Unión. Belgrano would play the next three seasons in the B Nacional. In that time, Vázquez would play in 80 matches, scoring 12 goals. El Mudo’s quick paced style of play, incredible vision and passing quickly endeared him to the Pirata fans and helped him earn a regular spot in the starting 11, as well as the holy number 10 shirt.

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As the 2010/11 B Nacional season ended, Belgrano found themselves fourth in the table and earned a chance to win promotion to the top flight. They would play a two legged playoff against one of the relegation candidates currently in the Primera division. Perhaps unlucky for the Celeste, Belgrano would have to face one of the two biggest clubs in Argentine football, a club who had never been relegated from the top flight, River Plate. 

The first leg was played in Córdoba, in Belgrano’s home stadium in Alberdi on June 22, 2011. A penalty in the 25th minute converted by César Mansanelli and a 49th minute ball from a corner, nudged in at the back post by César Picante Pereyra, gave Belgrano a 2-0 victory over La Banda Roja.

The second leg was played in Buenos Aires at the Monumental four days later. Mariano Pavone gave the home side an early lead after just 5 minutes. River’s hopes were restored as they had 85 minutes left to score an equalizer. However, in the 61st minute, El Mudo robbed the ball from River near the center circle, played it to his teammate and ran down the field in attack. The ball was returned to Vázquez but ricocheted in the box off two River defenders falling to the feet of Guillermo Farre. Belgrano tied the match 1-1. River would fail to convert a penalty in 70th minute and would be relegated from top flight football. Franco Vázquez started and played a key role in both matches. 

June 26th would come to be known in Córdoba as ‘The Day the World Spoke About Belgrano.’ El Pirata made the world take notice of their remarkable achievement and clubs around the world started to pay attention to Belgrano’s playmaker, Franco Vázquez.

As 2011 came to a close, Palermo in Italy came calling for El Mudo. The Celeste sold their star to the Sicilian club for $6 million. Franco Vázquez would play his final match for Belgrano at home in Alberdi, score a goal, and leave the pitch to a standing ovation.

As he arrived in Italy, he participated in the second half of the Serie A season but had little success and was loaned to Spanish side Rayo Vallecano for the following season. When he returned back to Italy, El Mudo began to find more playing time and started to score goals. Possibly the biggest reason for his success was the partnership that blossomed on the pitch alongside fellow Cordobés, Paulo Dybala.

The duo spent two seasons together scoring 32 combined goals. It was in their final season together at Palermo, in March 2015, when Vázquez would receive that call from Antonio Conte to join the Italian national team.

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Both Dybala and Vázquez would soon leave Palermo, first La Joya went to Juventus followed a year later by El Mudo moving to Sevilla in Spain. Franco continued to grow as a footballer and was a staple in the starting 11 for Sevilla. As his success continued, rumbles started to grow that Jorge Sampaoli would give him a shot with the national team in one of the qualification matches prior to the World Cup. That call never came.

On August 17, 2018, Lionel Scaloni, Argentina’s interim coach, released his list of players for the Albiceleste’s two upcoming friendlies. After years of hoping and dreaming of the opportunity to wear the sky blue and white and represent his birth nation, Franco Vázquez did get the call, his name was included among the list of Argentina internationals. Also on the list, his friend and former teammate, Paulo Dybala.

When El Mudo spoke to TyC Sports, he said, “Two years ago, I was selected for Italy because my mother is Italian, but thank God that I have now been given this possibility. I have always felt Argentine.”

With 29 total players included in the list, it remains to be seen if El Mudo will get the chance to start and / or play meaningful minutes for Argentina. It will undoubtedly be an emotional moment for the 29-year old to see his name on the back of the Albiceleste shirt and wear it for the first time. A journey that has taken him from the B Nacional in Argentina, to helping Belgrano pull off one of the biggest shocks in football history, to Serie A in Italy, to the Italian national team, to La Liga in Spain, and finally, back to his roots and a chance to play for his birth nation. It has not been a traditional journey for Franco Damián Vázquez, but the destination continues to be remarkable for the boy from a town of just 4,000 people in Córdoba, Argentina.

Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and loves to write about football when he has a break from work and family. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.

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