The Nerd Review Issue #2: Maxi Lovera, Wasted Talent or Another Coat?
Welcome back fellow Red & Whites for a 2nd deep dive on yet another nerd we sent on loan midseason! Before we get started, I wanted to thank all of you that sent me DM’s on social media, emails, etc. about the first blog post. Many of you gave me some great ideas for a title for the blog series. “The Nerd Blogs”, “Chronicles of a Nerd”, “The Angry Nerd”, were just a few of some of the great suggestions. Alas I have settled on the suggestion by G7I’s very own Demo George. These blogs of mine will henceforth be known as “The Nerd Review”. Now that there is a proper name for my series, I will do my best to continue blending Wyscout player/game analytics with the hours of tape I watch.
Onto the subject at hand, Maximiliano Alberto Lovera. If you do not remember the transfer, Maxi was a prospect playing for Argentine club Rosario Central and recommended to us by Chori Dominguez. At the time, our interest was matched by clubs such as Boca Juniors, Arsenal, and Anderlecht. On August 19th 2019, Olympiacos successfully beat out the competition by putting pen to paper with Maxi for 3.3 million euros. Maxi would go on to have a relatively underwhelming 2019/2020 season for us, despite some flashes of potential. He featured in 29 matches, totaling 1,219 minutes. Unfortunately, his stats mirrored the average quality we saw on the pitch for the 2019/2020 season. 2 goals (both against Kalamata in the Greek Cup) and 2 assists led to a relatively quiet debut season. His crossing volume was low (2 per 90), he struggled to track back (as evidenced by less defensive duels, interceptions, and recoveries per 90 than our other wingers), he was garbage in the air (14.1% success with aerial duels), he could not win any loose balls to save his soul, he did not have the expected volume of balls played into the penalty area, and just did not seem to be very involved in games.
One of the more frustrating things about this transfer is that Maxi was advertised as a 10, with potential to play on the wing. Unfortunately we saw him play primarily as a winger, and a relatively poor one at that. Even in the games he played centrally, he did not seem to have a penchant for breaking down enemy defenses (lowest attempted through ball/smart pass/key pass volume compared to our other 10s).
So the question you might now have is, “Was there anything interesting about him that season?”. The answer is yes. Let’s start with his dribbling ability. Maxi has a very nice touch on the ball and a low center of gravity. He can keep the ball very close and has very quick turn speed. We have seen ourselves that he has an eye for 1v1 opportunities with more than enough skill to succeed on most occasions (56.7% 1v1 dribble success). Perhaps this is a reason that Martins opted to keep him on the wing. Although he had a tendency to disappear from games and fail to track back, when he did get involved in the defensive side of things he was pretty solid. A 62.3% defensive duel win rate along with 2.5 interceptions and almost 4 ball recoveries per game do show us that there is an understanding of the defensive part of this game. The effort just seemed to be missing.
So what happened this season? Why did we see regression? Well, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, Maxi had Covid around the time the season restarted. For those that remember, the cup final was postponed due to his positive test. We cannot be completely sure exactly how much of an effect this had. 5-8 million people in the United States alone have had long term side effects from the virus. Marathon runners have seen themselves barely able to run a mile for over 6 months after their infection. More relevant to Olympiacos, Hassan suffered from myocarditis months after his infection.
Second, we do not have many Spanish speakers on the team. Some of you are going to say “BUt wE Have POrtugUEse plAyErs, why can’t he communicate with them?”. For those of you that can speak Spanish even in an elementary fashion, you know that the two languages are different. Although the languages are similar, the pronunciation of words and certain syllables are completely different. Hell, Argentinian Spanish is different from Spanish spoken in Spain. The language barrier is a hugely understated problem. We, as fans, have a tendency to completely dismiss it and expect the smoothest transition of foreign nationals to our clubs. Almost every one of our Legends interviews have discussed the language barrier and how important of an issue it is to overcome. Par Zetterberg mentioned that it was of the utmost importance to find someone you could communicate with and who could help you communicate with others. Par had Ze Elias; who did Maxi have? When he first arrived, he probably had Guilherme. Semedo also played in Spain, so it stands to reason that he can speak Spanish as well. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that after Guilherme left, Maxi Lovera’s usage by Martins dwindled.
Third, Maxi never seemed to smoothly transition to the style of football played in Greece. Coming from Argentina (a more open and offensive league) to Greece (a very defensive league) is a shock for many of these South American players who are used to playing open football. Furthermore, Maxi came to the biggest team in Greece. Everyone in Greece parks the bus against us and it requires a completely different game plan and style of play to get around this.
Lastly, in 2020/2021 Maxi was never afforded the opportunities that a certain other player was given despite his poor performances *COUGH* LAZAR *COUGH*. It stands to reason that Maxi needed more game time to prove himself. Lazar was one of the worst performers on the pitch yet he was a consistent starter in the first half of the season. Why was Maxi given different treatment? Reiterating what I said about Pepe, I’m not here to make excuses for him. I’m simply trying to help understand what went wrong and why.
Now that we have sufficiently hashed out the past, it is time to take a look at the present. More specifically, Maxi’s present with Racing Club. At first glance there is not much in the video or data to write home about. He is not a league leader in too many metrics. He is #6 in Argentina when it comes to overall 1v1 dribble attempts (9.29 per 90), but he sits outside of the top 30 with his success at 46%. He sits at #17 in smart passes per 90 at 1.37 and is #11 with 3.26 progressive runs per 90. In context these are somewhat positive signs even if they are few in number. The increased dribbling volume leads us to believe he has gained more confidence in himself on the dribble. The film supports this as we see less hesitation in those moments. Additionally, it is refreshing to see him with an eye for runs behind the defensive line. At the very least it is better than in his time with us. Even his progressive run volume is higher. All of this points to a player building his confidence in his ability to get the ball forward and create in the final third.
Unfortunately, there are some worrying signs. Although we see his confidence grown when on the ball and dribbling on defenders, there’s a caveat. He has the tendency to dribble himself into a bad position or kill a possession with a dribble and no end product as a result. Also, the issues that excluded him from the lineup at Olympiacos appear to have gotten worse in Argentina. Tracking back continues to appear to be a problem. Maxi engages in even less defensive duels and pressures than with Olympiacos. To make matters on the defensive front worse, he also has less interceptions and recoveries per 90 than before. Some of this is due to the nature of the league in Argentina. It is more open and there are less overall opportunities per game for these types of defensive actions. Additionally, he has somehow gotten even worse in the air. Literally, he has not won the ball in the air since leaving for Argentina. Topping it all off, his crossing volume has barely improved and is still quite low. I find this unacceptable given how open the game is in Argentina and how often teams tend to cross the ball.
The only thing I can think to say on his loan spell currently is “one step forward, two steps back”. His increased 1v1 dribbles and progressive runs show his confidence in getting forward with the ball. We also love to see that he does possess a modicum of vision. The positives though are unfortunately outweighed by regression in facets of his play that were already negative. At this point, I do not know how I feel about a Maxi return to Olympiacos. I do not see a player that is Olympiacos quality, but he is still a bit young for me to consider him a coat.
Maxi’s loan runs until December of 2021 which leaves plenty of time for him to change my mind. I will hope for the best but I’m not holding my breath.