Lucas Ocampos: Can Monaco's speed merchant replace Raheem Sterling at Liverpool?
If the seasonal rumour mill is to be believed Liverpool may well find themselves robbed of the services of talented youngster Raheem Sterling. And despite the bulging bank account that will result, Brendan Rodgers and company will face the difficult task of finding an adequate replacement.
One name that is being linked with a move to Anfield in such circumstances is Monaco’s very own 20-year-old forward – Lucas Ocampos.
Who is Lucas Ocampos?
Ocampos began his football career as a centre-forward with his hometown club, Quilmes, just south of Buenos Aires. But after impressing in their youth sides and with the Argentina under-15s, he was swiftly snapped up by River Plate and it was here that he was shifted out onto the left of an attacking trident in the much vaunted Millionarios academy team.
In 2011, at perhaps the lowest point in River’s illustrious history with the Buenos Aires behemoths relegated to the Nacional B for the first time, the 17-year-old Ocampos seized his opportunity and sparkled on his senior debut against Chacarita Juniors.
This led to the youngster starting the second game of the season in the Estadio Monumental against Independiente Rivadavia and he immediately repaid the faith of coach Matias Almeyda with a towering header to cancel out the visitors early lead. River gained immediate promotion, but it was Ocampos who caught the eye of admirers in Europe, finishing the season with seven goals and five assists.
It was inevitable then that an offer would come in and River were in no position to turn down the €13 million that the cash-laden, and then Ligue 2 side, Monaco put on the table. The 18-year-old lit up the Monumental for a little over a season but headed to the south of France for another promotion campaign.
It did not take long for Ocampos to live up to his hype when in only his second game for Monaco he scored a spectacular bicycle kick in the Coupe de la Ligue against Valenciennes, which was voted by the Monaco supporters as the goal of the season for 2012/13.
Ocampos showed plenty of early promise and under Claudio Ranieri playing time was easy to come by as Monaco returned to Ligue 1. But as Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev continued to splash the cash and the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho arrived, Ocampos gradually became more of a fringe player.
Desperate for more playing time, Ocampos sought a loan move away from Monaco in the January transfer window of last season, he moved along the Mediterranean coast to Marseille and linked up with legendary Argentine manager, Marcelo Bielsa.
A fruitful loan spell full of the usual pace and trickery ended with two goals and two assists from his fourteen appearances with Les Olympiens as they finished fourth in Ligue 1. However, with money not so abundant in Marseille, the club have decided not to take up their option to buy the 20-year-old and Ocampos finds himself back in Monaco for the start of the forthcoming season.
Could Liverpool swoop for the youngster?
The newspaper suggest that Ocampos is on Brendan Rodgers list of possible replacements in the event that Raheem Sterling exits Anfield and, although there is nothing concrete in this, it is understood that scouts from several sides kept an eye on his performances over the second half of last season.
Monaco appear open to a deal with a transfer fee of around €15 million mentioned in the French media which would be substantially cheaper than a lot of other options and certainly less than the touted £50 million that Liverpool desire for Sterling. They are however not alone. Italian side, Fiorentina appear prepared to offer that sum of money and West Ham’s new regime under Slaven Bilic are also interested.
Ocampos is under contract with Monaco until 2017 and the only noises coming from the player are that he would welcome a return to the Stade Velodrome to continue under Bielsa. This is a distinct possibility if Monaco do not receive an acceptable bid to buy the forward outright.
At present, Liverpool’s interest would appear to be nothing more than paper talk but if the Premier League side do find themselves £50 million better off towards the end of the transfer window, Lucas Ocampos may well fit the bill to inject some pace into their attack.
What will Ocampos offer Liverpool in their system?
The short answer to that question would be pace on the flanks, particularly in the event of Sterling leaving, but perhaps even if the fellow 20-year-old remains at the club. However, there are clear distinctions between the two.
Like the archetypal South American, Ocampos exhibits supreme technique and has a wonderful first touch and superb dribbling ability with both feet. His balance in this regard makes him a very elusive player given that he feints to go either way and can pop up on either flank.
His acceleration and pace make him a dangerous wide player and his passing is perhaps underrated given that he has developed into much more of a creator than a goal scorer since his youth football. This is an aspect that he can certainly improve as his eye for goal and finishing could be described as inconsistent and certainly a player of his talents should find the net more regularly.
As a wide player Ocampos is always looking to come inside rather than a traditional winger that drives to the by-line on the outside of the full-back and so he would suit playing on either side of a 4-3-3 as Brendan Rodgers often looks to utilize.
One area where Ocampos certainly differs to someone like Raheem Sterling is physically. At 6’2” (187 cm) the former centre-forward provides an aerial presence in the box and has shown this throughout his career with his heading ability and threat when attacking crosses from the opposite wing. His strength and physicality also make him a more robust wide player and the 20-year-old is unafraid to track back and tackle.
At 20 years of age, there is plenty of time and room for improvement. And at the correct club and in the correct system, Ocampos could develop into a world class forward.
Written by Peter Coates