The manner in which the football world ground to a halt from March onwards is unprecedented in the modern game, and for good reason. Like any thriving business in the world of globalised capitalism the sport and, as logically follows, its stars need constant growth and momentum to support its unwieldy stature. Even when the season ends focus shifts to the transfer market, where multi-million dollar sums are thrown around with as much abandon as stocks on the Wall Street Stock Exchange; so when the game loses that forward thrust, the result is widespread confusion and a sense of disconcertment that is hard to shake off even when the ball starts rolling again.
Argentine strike duo Lautaro Martínez and Adolfo Gaich may be in different stages of their careers, but the same notion holds for each player. Prior to lockdown Martínez was the toast of Inter and supposedly the answer to all of Barcelona's problems, as the Spanish giants moved mountains to try and convince the former Racing Club prodigy's employers to let him go. Having struck up a productive partnership with Romelu Lukaku and earned the approval of none other than Lionel Messi as a worthy recruit for the Catalans, the sky was the limit for Lautaro.
In less than two months since Serie A returned to action following the coronavirus hiatus, though, his stock has lowered considerably. Lautaro has managed just one goal in seven outings post-Covid, missing a crucial penalty at the weekend as Inter let slip a 1-0 lead to fall to defeat against Bologna. His 'punishment' was to drop to the bench on Wednesday for the trip to Verona, where he suffered similar frustration: coming on late, he did brilliantly to fashion a chance from nothing but proceeded to shoot into the body of goalkeeper Marco Silvestre when Alexis Sánchez was screaming for the pass.
The Nerazzurri, 2-1 up at that point, went on to drop two further points, and the consensus is that the 22-year-old Argentina international is simply trying too hard to impress his prospective new team, ruining his present form in the process. What is undeniable is that Martínez's dip in form is something all forwards suffer at some point or another: when the ball stops hitting the net and the momentum is lost, it can feel like an eternity before normality can once more be restored, especially with the pressure of such an opportunity like Camp Nou looming heavy.
Gaich is 18 months Lautaro's junior and similarly keen to keep his career moving forward. It has not been an easy task for the San Lorenzo forward: between myriad commitments for Argentina at Under-20, 23 and senior level and the chronic instability in Bajo Flores – no less than six coaches have sat on the Cuervo bench since he made his first-team debut in August 2018 – he has made just 27 appearances for the club and scored a mere eight goals.
His promise is undeniable, though, leading to fervent interest in his signature from afar. At the start of 2020 Belgium's Club Brugge were on the verge of signing Gaich, only to see the move fall through at the last minute due to a dispute over the manner of payment between the two clubs. Now his future appears to lie in Russia, with CSKA Moscow taking advantage of San Lorenzo's fragile financial situation with a bid worth US$12 million – a positive bargain in a transfer market that remains inflated despite the hard reality shock football has received during this pandemic.
Russia has proved an unhappy hunting ground for many promising Argentine footballers. Pint-sized playmaker Maxi Moralez for one endured a miserable spell with CSKA's neighbours FC Moscow, featuring in just a handful of games before returning to Racing Club, while talented ex-River Plate midfielder Matías Kranevitter stagnated over three season at Zenit St. Petersburg, falling entirely off the Selección radar, and is now hoping to make up for lost time with Mexico's Monterrey. Sebastian Driussi has made rather more of a splash at Zenit having followed Kranevitter from River to Russia, but nevertheless finds himself far from either the national team or a top European club despite delivering back-to-back national titles for his side.
All of those concerns, however, are largely academic for Gaich and his team of agents and handlers. The key for the youngster is to keep moving and, with no return date set for Argentine football and only a limited window to negotiate and finalise a European move he does not have the luxury of sitting back and turning down offers. There will be time for an emotional return to San Lorenzo further down the line, perhaps sooner rather than later should Moscow prove a letdown; but for now, the young striker, like his colleague Lautaro, must look forward, with the risks of passing up this chance too great to consider.