LIONEL SEBASTIÁN SCALONI

Date of Birth: 16 May, 1978
Nationality: Argentina (international)/Italy
Period at Deportivo: 1998 (January) - 2006
Transfer: $2,7 million (405 million pesetas) (ca. €2,6 million, 1998)
Clubs: Racing de Santander (2006), West Ham United (2006), Deportivo (1998-2006), Estudiantes de La Plata (1996-1998), Newell's Old Boys (1994-1996)
Sold: Free Transfer (2006, to Racing de Santander)
Height: 182 cm
Weight: 80 kg
Position: Defender/Midfielder (right)

Lionel SCALONI has been one of the most passionate players having worn the shirt of Depor between early 1998 and mid-2006. He quickly became a popular figure among supporters when he arrived at the club coming from Estudiantes of Argentina as emergency reinforcement. If we forget the way he left the club 8,5 years later, the period of Scaloni at the club not incidentally coincided with a very successful era for Deportivo.

1997 was the year of his breakthrough as Scaloni, being barely 19-years old, was a member of the Argentina team at the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship during which he scored the best goal of the tournament (against Brazil in the Quarter Finals). It was one of the things that aroused interest from Deportivo when the club desperately were looking for reinforcements during the winter break of the 1997/1998 season. The Galicians had started the season as one of the Liga favourites having just added a player like Djalminha to their squad. But the departure of another Brazilian magician, Rivaldo, hours before the end of the summer 1997 transfer deadline, heavily influenced Depor’s campaign and some months later they were dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Scaloni arrived at the club accompanied by his brother Mauro, who would play for Deportivo B (Fabril). Lionel was one of four winter-signings during that period for the first team but he became the only one to succeed at the club. ‘Manteca’ Martínez, Abreu and Hadji never impressed and rarely wore the blue and white. His Liga debut he made on 4 January, 1998 in a much disputed 2-1 home win against Sporting de Gijón. He didn’t spend much time on the pitch though as goalkeeper Songo’o was sent-off after just 3 minutes and Scaloni had to make way for replacing goalkeeper Rufai. But although a Gijón goal in the first half seemed to become decisive, defender Naybet and new-arrival Abreu secured three vital points for the Galicians. Scaloni played a total of 18 matches that half a season, all as a starter, and only missed two. His first goal in Spain he scored in a 0-1 win at Racing de Santander, the club where Scaloni moved to 8,5 years later.

In the summer of 1998 his future looked bright. Having just turned twenty, Scaloni was a starter at Deportivo when new coach Javier Irureta arrived with a handful of new signings. Scaloni, nicknamed “The Bull” for his fighting power and determination, was present in the squad of Deportivo during all the seven seasons under Irureta and therefore celebrated all successes of that era. In their first combined season, 1998/1998, Scaloni had competition from Armando, Flávio Conceição and new sigings Ziani and Manuel Pablo at the right side. This combined influenced Scaloni negatively. As a consequence he only reached 948 Liga minutes (8 starting places) that season which made him the 16th squad player in this aspect.

But things became even worse during the season 1999/2000 when Deportivo won their first Liga ever. Scaloni is well-known for the emotions he displayed when celebrating the title win, among which his anti-Celta songs. But his 446 Liga minutes (just 4 starting places) indicated he had lost opportunities to new signing Víctor Sánchez and Manuel Pablo; two players who would repeat this much more during the next years. Between 2000 and 2005 the devoted Argentinean midfielder played an average of 26 Liga matches per season, of which a large part as substitute. It made Scaloni the perfect “nr.12” of the squad; a player to resolve problems when they occurred. A 'luxury backup'. Many matches Scaloni owed to Manuel’s Pablo awful injury (a broken leg) which the Canarian defender suffered on 30 September, 2001 and kept him out of a Liga match for more than one full year. During the season 2004/2005 Scaloni truly became a multi-functional player when central midfielders Mauro Silva and Duscher both were out injured and Irureta had to improvise in midfield. Scaloni played one of his best seasons at the club.

Back then the successful period of Irureta, and Scaloni, at the club already had ended. Both celebrated a Liga win (2000), a Copa win (2002) and two Supercopa wins (2000 and 2002) together combined with astonishing European success (two Champions League Quarter Final places and one Semi Final against FC Porto). In 2005 Deportivo and Irureta literally said ‘goodbye’ (as did captains Fran and Mauro Silva) and new coach Caparrós named Scaloni captain of the team for the season 2005/2006. Caparrós positioned Scaloni in midfield as pivote nex to to Sergio. But things didn’t work out as planned. Scaloni earned his first call up for the Argentine national side in 2002. But now he was worried about his chances of entering the Argentina squad playing the World Cup 2006 in Germany. Despite Scaloni was captain of the team, Caparrós eventually preferred the tandem Duscher-Sergio who both reached 31 starting places each. There wasn’t much left for Scaloni who started just 8 matches until 15 January, 2006.

Then a troubled half a season appeared which ended in the broken off relationship between Scaloni and Deportivo. Scaloni himself needed to play minutes and was looking for time elsewhere. It came as a big surprise when Deportivo president Lendoiro accepted a loan spell at West Ham United at the final day of the winter market. Conflicting stories have appeared since then about the nature of this move. According to Caparrós he was the most surprised man himself and this incident became the first of a series of confrontations between coach and president. But some time later Scaloni explained that it was Caparrós who didn’t want him anymore as he considered Scaloni to have a ‘negative influence’ in the dressing room. This had much to do with a statement of Scaloni earlier that season indicating that he wanted to return to Argentina when his contract would expire in 2007.

In London the Argentinean player, almost 28-years old by then, replaced Tomas Repka at the Hammers and fulfilled his job with a decent note. In fact, Scaloni succeeded to achieve his main desire and he was a shock entry in José Pekerman’s final squad list for the World Cup 2006. The pair knew each other well, with Scaloni making his Albiceleste debut under Pekerman back at the FIFA World Youth Championship Malaysia 1997. Scaloni was included as a right back, but he only had the chance to perform in the second round match against Mexico. He made a very solid defensive contribution, although his participation was limited in the offensive efforts of the team. Argentina narrowly escaped elimination (2-1 win) but were out in the next round against Germany.

Despite having been picked for the Argentina squad, it was clear that Scaloni was not welcome anymore at Deportivo. Scaloni and Caparrós had rows in the media and the coach quickly discarded him for the 2006/2007 season. Now it was up to president Lendoiro to find a new club for the Argentinean player. But the indication that Scaloni wasn’t wished anymore at Deportivo was a clear signal to other clubs not to spend a Eurocent on a buy-out sum. There were several interested Spanish clubs, but Lendoiro remained firm and asked for a financial compensation. This situation became more tense as the transfer deadline approached and a real ‘soap opera’ started to take place. Similar to the case of Diego Tristán, there was still no club willing to pay compensation when there remained just a few hours. Some days earlier Scaloni even warned Deportivo that he was ready for a confrontation if no solution was found. “If this isn’t resolved, Caparrós will have to see my face during the next ten months,” he warned. Some time earlier Scaloni joined the training sessions of the team (his legal right) and this could have been the reason why Caparrós called it off that day. Another episode of a bizarre summer.

Eventually no club was found (despite interest of Betis, Celta(!) and Olympique Marseille), although Scaloni was called to the Deportivo office on the last night as Racing de Santander seemed interested. However, when he arrived Scaloni said he was “prepared to go” although Deportivo later claimed Racing never returned with a call. As a conclusion no club was found and Scaloni had still 1 year of contract left at the club. Both club and player then sat around the table and agreed a compensation sum of €1 million for Scaloni to leave the club directly. The affair (as the one of Tristán) caused a division among Deportivo supporters about who was right: the player of the club. But all agreed that this end of Scaloni at the club didn’t reflect how important he has been during the years before. Racing de Santander proved to be the smartest of all when they signed Scaloni as free agent just some days later, despite vows of Scaloni years earlier that he would never wear the shirt of another Spanish team.

Scaloni looks back at his time at Deportivo in this way. “I was 19-years old when I arrived and was given a spectacular treatment by the supporters since then. For sure La Coruña was my second home and it will be so in the future. I want to thank all for my time at the club.” Scaloni will go into the history books of the club as member of a golden era when he was present during nine different seasons, played 200 Liga matches and scored 14 goals in them. A legend left the club in 2006.
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