Ever since the arrival of Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose at Lazio, from Panathinaikos and Bayern Munich respectively, opportunities have been few and far between for Mauro Zarate. Speculation of a move away from the Stadio Olimpico has been rife amongst the Italian press all summer.
For those who know nothing about Zarate, he was born to an Argentine father and an Italian mother. Both his father and grandfather played professional football, and were reasonably wealthy.
Throughout his youth he played for Vélez Sársfield, before being promoted to the senior side at the age of seventeen. In 2006 he finished joint top-scorer with twelve goals. During his three seasons there he scored twenty-eight goals in ninety-nine appearances.
His name really started to get around when he represented Argentina at the Under-20 in 2007. They won the tournament beating Czech Republic in the final, with Zarate getting the winning goal.
Instead of making the ‘big' move to Europe, as many young South Americans do, Zarate signed for Al-Sadd in the Qatari League. It was not exactly the move many predicted, but it was worth twenty million.
Six games and four goals later, Zarate was loaned out to the Premier League and Birmingham City in 2008. Although he scored four goals in fifteen appearances Birmingham were relegated, so his loan move was not extended.
At this point Zarate did not want to go back to Qatar, so he was yet again loaned out, this time to Italian side Lazio. At the age of twenty-one, Zarate had something to prove, and started his debut Serie A season on fire. Scoring ten goals and ending as the sixth top goal scorer, despite his form taking a slide in the second half of the season. Eventually club captain Tommaso Rocchi came back from injury and replaced him.
At the end of that season Lazio won the Copa Italia, and Zarate scored one goal and one penalty. After that Lazio made his move permanent for a fee of around twenty million. They also added a sixty million buy-out clause. Zarate was finally settling down.
Three years on, and Zarate has never replicated the form he had in his first season. He has only scored fifteen goals in those three seasons. The only thing that really keeps him in the team are the occasional bursts of brilliance and the fans getting on the coaches back if he's not picked.
Last year in particular was full of controversy. It started when Zarate was pictured giving a fascist salute while watching Lazio lose to Bari while he was in the stands. His agent later defended him claiming he did not know what it meant, or who Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini were.
Later that year FIFA declared that Lazio would have to pay Zarate's first club Vélez Sársfield around seven hundred thousand because he was signed on a transfer and not as a free agent as they claimed. Thus Vélez were entitled to additional solidarity contribution. Lazio claimed they had paid Zarate twenty million to give to Al-Sadd to terminate his contract, proving he was signed on a free. FIFA rejected this, but Lazio have since appealed.
Zarate has always has a close relationship with the Lazio Ultras (the die-hard fans). When not available to play, he would not sit with his fellow players above the bench of in a corporate box; instead he sat with the Ultras in the stands. Meaning they have always supported him when he argued with managers or fellow players.
However last season the Ultras have been running out of reasons to support him. Since his first season his form has never quite been the same. Since many sides around Europe have been interested in him, perhaps Lazio have been thinking about cashing in.
"Zarate is an important and fundamental player for us, but if something happens between now and the end of the transfer window then we'll evaluate things," technical co-ordinator Iglie Tare said earlier this summer.
Speculation really increased this week after Zarate was left out of Lazio's 6-0 victory over Macedonian side Rabotnicki in the Europa League. Leading to the Italian press claiming he was not played so they would not cup-tie him, making a possible transfer harder. Even though manger Edy Reja claimed he had been suffering from ‘the flu all week'.
Throughout the summer French side Paris Saint-Germain have been linked because ex-Inter and AC Milan coach Leonardo has taken over his sporting director. Leonardo has bought a lot of Serie A talent since his arrival, with the biggest name being Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore. PSG were reported to have offered twenty million for Zarate, but no move has been made.
Other sides around Europe such as Atletico Madrid and Spartak Moscow have been interested. Since Atletico brought in Porto striker Falcao for thirty-five million they have fallen of the radar, while reports from Moscow have cooled.
It looked as though Zarate was staying, until Italian paper Corriere dello Sport started reporting that Zarates's brother and agent Sergio had flown out to London to discuss possible moves with Arsenal and Tottenham. An Arsenal official also leaked that an Argentine striker was due to have a medical, but the equipment apparently failed.
Since the initial speculation the English press have claimed that the more likely destination would be Spurs, while the Italians have claimed it has always been Arsenal.
Spurs are in desperate for a striker as their current strike force has struggled to score recently, relying on the midfielders to do all the work. Zarate would play just behind another attacker, in this case perhaps Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe. Zarate can also play as an attacking midfielder; if Luka Modric leaves he would be a solid replacement.
While Arsenal fans are desperate for a signing, the press have been reporting that manager Arsene Wenger has around seventy million to spend, but not much of it has been used. If Samir Nasri leaves Zarate would be a good replacement, but other than that I don't see him fitting in. Wenger has been interested in Zarate since his Under-20 World Cup. In fact last year he was rumoured to be moving in, but in the end nothing happened.
Zarate would cost around twenty million, Lazio will not accept anything lower. Arsenal were reported to only be offering ten, so if Spur can go any higher I think he'll be theirs.
Zarate has been an extremely temperamental throughout his career. At times at can be truly brilliant, with his pace, skill and eye for goal. Then he will switch off and not be seen for the rest of the game. He needs a good coach to tone his abilities and put him on the straight and narrow.
Zarate's career to date has been one of promise and controversy. You have to remember he is only twenty-four, and in the theory at the best age to peak. I believe if he settles down at a good club he can finally set us alight one again.