When Reading FC announced the loan arrival of a Brazilian playmaker from Chelsea, many Loyal Royals would have been drooling. Chelsea's recruitment strategy is well known and widely scorned for apparently "abusing" the loan system — but when they can afford to loan out talents as good as Mo Salah (2014), Romelu Lukaku (2012–2014) and Patrick Bamford (seemingly forever) and your club grabs one, you can be forgiven for letting some slobber fall from your mouth.
Yes, Lucas Piazon. The Brazilian. He was dubbed the 'Next Kaka' upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge. He has been on loan at top-tier European sides Malaga, Vitesse and Frankfurt. He has scored goals. He has provided assists. He has clearly got talent.
Unsuited to the Championship?
The youngster (he's only 21, remember) has seemingly not taken to the Championship well at all. Despite scoring three goals and laying on two assists in 11 appearances the statistics mask a rather worrying fact: he's lightweight and not suited to Clarke's preferred system.
At least, that's what many fans think. You can see why. The way he moves about the pitch is languid, he doesn't run very fast and when it comes to applying pressure on the ball he's slow to step forward.
Predominantly played on the left wing in Stephen Quinn's absence, Piazon spends most of his time drifting in from the flank and playing short passes to nearby teammates, not taking risks and taking the safe option. When you arrive on loan from Chelsea with the title 'Next Kaka' hanging over you, fans expect more than dainty flicks and rusty through balls. He never takes a man on, meaning his opposition full back has a rather easy job. He's just not obvious.
Reading fans love the obvious star. They loved Jimmy Kebe for his searing pace and unpredictability. They loved Shane Long for his efforts up front and, eventually, his goalscoring exploits. They loved Gylfi Sigurdsson because, well, it's Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Piazon is a different type of player. He's not so much the 'Next Kaka' as the 'Next Matejovsky'.
Stick with me here. Marek Matejovsky joined the Royals in January 2008 for a fee supposedly over the £1million mark with a burgeoning reputation. His displays for Mladá Boleslav interested the likes of Liverpool FC and Hamburg SV. Plenty was expected.
Unfortunately, the majority of Reading fans will agree that his time spent in Berkshire was not a success. He was slow, cumbersome and never quite seemed on the same wavelength as his teammates. Everybody recognised there was something talented about him, but nobody could quite put a finger on why he just couldn't perform for The Royals. Of course, for that reason he became something of a cult hero. Though the goal below may also have contributed to that.
The fact he departed Reading to link up with Champions League side Sparta Prague and is still playing for them in Europe says as much about his ability as it does about why Reading fans were left bemused by his performances.
I'm willing to throw Piazon into the same basket as Matejovsky. He's talented, he'll contribute, but he won't win fans over. Nor will he reach his potential at Reading for exactly that reason. He's too subtle and his role in the team isn't clear.
Let me elaborate with the use of STATISTICS. Yes, those things you can use to twist into any argument you're making. According to WhoScored, his statistically calculated strengths are passing, key passing, through balls and taking set pieces. He also doesn't have any weaknesses. Oh, and they also say he likes to play short passes, do lay offs and get a tackle in. STATISTICALLY, he's not actually that bad and is actually rather good.
Yet on the pitch, we see a player that doesn't take a man on, doesn't press as much as others, doesn't have much pace and doesn't thrill.
Do we need to change our expectations?
But is that his role in the team? Isn't that what the likes of Blackman, John and McCleary are for? They are the thrill seekers, the risk takers, the gung-ho 'obvious' players we so dearly love. I don't think it's fair to judge Piazon in the same way.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's been brilliant and even I'm not sure what he's in the team to do, but Steve Clarke continues to pick him and if he keeps popping up with the odd goal and assist, are we not judging him too harshly?
Is Steve Clarke expecting him to harry, press, take a man on and fly down the wing? Or is he a 'link man', moving into space and playing the simple passes to keep momentum going when we have the ball? I don't have the answer. But it's something we need to think about the next time we scream at him to take a man on or to shrug a man off — maybe that's not what he's there to do.
In all likelihood, Piazon will leave Reading in the summer and be sent out to another club on loan, but I'm willing to stick my neck out and say the Brazilian will be a permanent fixture in a top-tier European club in the next few years. He'll do exactly what Matejovsky has done — leave Reading and leave loyal Royals ruing his performances at the Madejski Stadium.