Editor's Note: Sam Kelly is a Buenos Aires-based Englishman who's covered Argentine soccer for more than a decade. He founded Hasta El Gol Siempre, a blog covering all things Argentine soccer, in 2007 and in addition to his web work, hosts Hand of Pod, billed as the only English-language Argentine soccer podcast in the world. He's here to give us the low-down on Cristian Pavon, an up-and-coming star who was recently linked with the LA Galaxy.
“My parents sat us down and told us one of us had to give up training,” one of his older brothers, Rodrigo, told Argentine news site Infobae last year. “I was going to keep playing because [being older] I was closer to the first team.”
In fact, Cristian is the youngest of four brothers, all of whom play soccer at some level or other (he also has a sister). After that talk with his parents, he got lucky: A family from the neighboring town of Alta Gracia offered transport so he could continue training, and even let him sleep in their home at times.
Eventually, both Cristian and Rodrigo would make it into their respective clubs’ first teams, and when they played each other, Rodrigo scored a penalty – but Cristian grabbed two goals of his own in a 3-1 win. A breakthrough at then-second-division Talleres de Cordoba followed, and while Talleres did poorly that season (finishing 20th out of 22 teams), Pavon’s performances were strong enough to catch the eye of Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors.
Another second-division campaign during a loan spell during the 2014 transitional championship with Colon followed, before in 2015 Pavon moved to Boca for good.
A fast, skillful winger, Pavon has an excellent touch and an impressive array of tricks in wide positions. What he hasn’t always shown is an equally good visibility of where teammates are, and, perhaps, an awareness of his own limits.
In the Argentine parlance, he sometimes plays as if he has a bucket on his head; he’s been known to run down blind alleys a little too frequently. During the 2017–'18 season, all of that changed.
After a decent second half of 2016–17, he was excellent the following season as he helped Boca to their second straight league title, racking up seven goals and 20 assists in just 36 games in all competitions, and earning a deserved place in Argentina’s World Cup squad. The bucket had finally been cast off – or at least had some eyeholes cut in it.
History of transfer rumors
And this is where we get to the thorny issue of Pavon’s form since the 2018 World Cup. In the middle of 2018, the winger was linked with Barcelona and Arsenal, with fees in the region of $40 million being touted. But the recent rumor linking Pavon with a move to the Galaxy cited a transfer fee in the range of $12 million (albeit for 70% of his rights). So what happened?
Well, first of all, he’s not had a great season. Most fans outside South America won’t have seen much more than Boca’s Copa Libertadores 2018 final defeat at the hands of hated rivals River Plate, in which, hindered by an injury picked up in the first leg, Pavon was largely ineffective. But those two games were, in a way, his 2018–19 season in microcosm.
He picked up an injury early on which seemed to throw him out of whack for the rest of the campaign. Somewhere along the line, though, that bucket fell back on to his head; even when fit, his form has dropped off in the last 12 months.
How he could fit in at the Galaxy
There is, of course, one very interesting variable in all this: Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The Boca Juniors manager under whom Pavon found his best form and earned that World Cup call-up is now in charge of the Galaxy. As both Los Angeles teams lead the Western Conference, it’s not hard to see why GBS might think he can help Pavon to rediscover his best form and get the Galaxy a new signing who can help them to kick on as a team for the second half of the campaign.
Under Schelotto at Boca, Pavon played both in wide positions in a 4-2-3-1 and in a 4-3-3, and occasionally as a second striker in a 4-3-1-2 or similar formations. As such, he’s familiar with the manager’s favorite setups and with the demands of various roles within them.
What's Pavon's upside?
This is a tricky question to answer, because when all is said and done, Pavon is still a pretty young player. In Argentina at the moment, he’s often talked about as weathering a dip in form during the last year.
This correspondent suspects that in fact his brilliant 2017–18 performances were a peak and that 2018–19 has seen a return to the mean … but the truth is that at just 23, it’s still perfectly possible that under the right manager and facing the challenge of a new team, he could well fight his way back into the Argentina national team setup. And who better to be that manager than the man who’s already coached him to his personal best season?