The forgotten greatness of Juan Pablo Sorin – skilfully versatile, eccentric and so stereotypically Argentinian

By Gerra Deegan 

Perhaps one Friday afternoon, a decade from now, when you’re sitting in your office bored and wishfully counting down the clock on your computer screen until it’s time to go home for the weekend, you decide to take one of the many thousands of quizzes on Sporcle. The question reads: ‘Name the South American Player who played for these clubs; Lazio, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, River Plate, and Juventus?’

You are there for hours, racking your brain but you keep hitting stumbling blocks. And why wouldn’t you? The player in question could easily be one of a forgotten past. He doesn’t stand out amongst the greats who have represented this variety of gigantic clubs. He never gets talked about as a stalwart of a generation. In truth, he probably never even gets a mention. But he should. That man is Juan Pablo Sorin.

Most will remember Sorin from his two year stint with Villareal where he used to gazelle the left hand touchline with the grace of a Tarzan like figure. His wild hair and aggressive style of defending often play into the stereotype so comparable with Argentinian footballers throughout the years. In reality though, he should be remembered as so much more. ‘Juampi’ as he is known in his home country was graceful, elegant and eccentric. Skilful and silky in possession and potentially one of the most gifted full-backs of his generation.

Sorin was born and raised in Buenos Aires and began his professional career with Argentinos Juniors. After captaining the national teams under-21s side to a World Youth Championship victory in 1995, it didn’t take long for one of Europe’s giants to come calling. Juventus signed Sorin in 95 but decided he wasn’t ready to make the grade after one full season. The youngster failed to break into a well-established back four and was forced to ply his trade back in Argentina.

Read also: Buenos Aires, mes qúe Boca y River, by Andrew Misra

After an unsuccessful time in Turin, Sorin would have much more joy in returning to his home country. He signed for River Plate in 1996 and would make the ‘Monumental’ his new coliseum. Predominately a left full back, Sorin would begin to prove himself among the countries best young talents. He won three AperturaChampionships in his three and a half seasons with the club and making the move back to Argentina perhaps ignited his career to some degree. While starting to become somewhat of a cult hero among fans of Los Millioarios, it didn’t take him long to be snapped up and whisked away again.

Cruzeiro was to be Sorins’ next destination and it was there where he won the Copa do Brasil in his first season. He spent four years at the club and although two of these years were spent on loan to three massive clubs in the shape of Lazio, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Sorin is still remembered more than fondly by the Cruzeiro fans. While loaned out to these clubs, Sorin was struggling to make the same impact in Europe as he was making in South America. This is why his move to Villarreal in 2004 is probably the most important of his career. Up to this point in 2004, Sorin had failed to live up to the potential he had shown as a youngster and now at the prime age of 28, was entering a stage of last chance saloon.

Having failed to live up to his promise on his four previous visits to Europe, the Valencian coast is undoubtedly where Sorin could now consider his home. We finally began to see the raw talent and ability.

Sorin developed into one of La Liga’s brightest and exciting talents. On a weekly basis he would show case his array of skill and trickery. While he remained predominately a full back throughout his career, Sorin will also be remembered for his marauding runs down the left hand side of ‘El Madrigal’ and beyond. Taking on defenders with a wild and frantic style of play and a rasping left foot. His aggressiveness when out of possession was constantly congealed with his South American lair when on the ball. An equally manic and beautiful sight to behold when in full flow.

His performances with Villarreal didn’t go unnoticed and new Argentina head coach Jose Pekerman rewarded Sorin with the captaincy ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where his side would eventually go out to the hosts in the quarter finals. Sorin had a majestic tournament and was a constant thorn in the oppositions side with his attacking play from the left and was probably a little harshly omitted from the team of the tournament. Up step Fabio Grosso and Phillip Lahm. This was Sorin’s second World Cup having also represented his country at the shambolic 2002 World Cup, when Argentina failed to make it out of the group stages

Read also: Juan Román Riquelme, the player who pauses

Sorin helped Villarreal to their best ever showing at a Champions League level, when he guided them to the 05/06 semi-finals. The Yellow Submarine narrowly missed out on a first ever Champions League Cup final, losing 1-0 to Arsenal over two legs.

Sorin went on to have an injury ridden end to his career. He waved goodbye to sunny Spain in 2006 and moved to Germany where he would be a bit part player for Hamburg before finally returning to the club who loved him dear, Cruzeiro. He only played once for the club before hanging up his boots in 2009.

We can almost definitely say that Sorin will not be remembered as one of the all-time greats of the game and perhaps that of a player who never fulfilled the fullest of his potential. What he should be remembered for is his dynamism, eccentricity and the sheer levels of excitement he brought to every game he played in. Truly one of the unsung heroes of an entire generation.

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