The Curious Case Of Ever Banega
The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is damp and nervous on a mid-April evening as Sevilla’s year long home unbeaten record looks to be coming to an abrupt end against Barcelona. Los Rojiblancos are 2-0 down with only 36 minutes on the clock after Messi and Neymar struck to put the Catalan outfit ahead. In a rare foray forward the ball is laid off by Vitolo to Ever Banega who has abandoned station as Sevilla’s deep-lying playmaker. He strides onto the ball, using two touches to give himself enough space whilst raising his head to assess the situation – Claudio Bravo has his vision blocked by Jeremy Mathieu and Sergio Busquets. With one more stride he unleashes a fearsome shot from 25 yards that flies past the glove of Bravo and into the corner of the net, via the post. The camera cuts to images of the crowd exploding into celebration and Banega scampers away to celebrate with his team mates. 65 minutes later, Sevilla score another to keep their home record intact for another few weeks.
Banega has always been a strange case, a player that clearly possessed the talent to cause the opposition trouble and arguably to have played for bigger clubs than he has to date. The most frustrating aspect of Banega’s game is actually off the pitch. His tendency to cause issues in the dressing room and drink has caused his liver more trouble than he has opposition defences. Rumours circulated this summer that Banega had clashed with Argetina team-mate Javier Mascherano at the Copa America. Benega will be fondly remembered for bursting onto the scene in Valencia following an impressive season with Boca Juniors, and starring on loan at Atletico Madrid before they hit the heights of the Diego Simeone era.
But dark clouds quickly gathered towards the end of his Valenica career, as injury curtailed his stay at the Mestalla. Various media outlets across Spain claimed that Banega failed to put the handbrake on in his car. As the vehicle rolled backwards, his leg became stuck between tyre and curb – he suffered a broken ankle, tibula and fibula – putting an end to his 2013/14 season. Valencia had enough and Banega was sent back to his homeland with Newell’s Old Boys.
After the sale of Ivan Rakitic to Barcelona, Unai Emery’s Sevilla side were crying out for a midfielder who could defend as well as create in his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. Emery didn’t look far from home when choosing his replacement for the Croatian, calling upon his old troop Banega to set up camp in a deep lying role with play making the primary objective. Despite his drinking, Real Madrid shirt wearing and being run over by his own car stunts at Valencia, Emery was the coach that managed to get the best out of Banega. The return has been a fantastic fit, as Banega has grown to become Sevilla’s most important midfield cog.
Although Banega’s wonderful performances were largely overshadowed by the emergence of midfield partner Grzegorz Krychowiak, the gritty playmaker became Sevilla’s largest source of mifield creation. 43 goal scoring opportunities were created from his deeper role, culminating in 6 assists. As mentioned above, Banega’s role last season was to connect the defense to the attack – Sevilla rely heavily on the counter attack through use of their wingers and the Argentinians immense passing range ensured that the transition from front to back was smooth, quick and accurate. He has relished the responsibility thrust upon him by Emery and has been touted as a possible captain. For a gentleman who grew up ‘eating mud’ as Tim Vickery put it, he has finally developed into the player that showed so much promise in the Under20 World Cup team that featured Aguero and Angel Di Maria.
His transformation over the past 18 months has been so significant, from Valencia wanting to hire a bodyguard to track his every move off the pitch, to Sevilla winning a second Europa League trophy in as many years with him at the engine room. Banega’s maturity has been reflected on the pitch with a series of impressive performances in a position that was unfamiliar to him, but one that he has adapted and mastered in a short amount of time. Argentina had previously ostracized him from the national team, but he even expelled those demons with a Copa America call-up this summer. Here is hoping that Banega stays on the straight and narrow and shows us what he is made of.