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On the last day of January 2006, with his club in danger of relegation from the Premier League, Harry Redknapp pulled off one of his last-minute transfer deals, bringing Argentine forward Andrés D’Alessandro to Portsmouth. In somewhat typical Redknapp tones, the manager was quoted in the Guardian as declaring that “The boy is a really influential playmaker and you can’t have too many of those,” said Redknapp. “This is a massive signing at the club for sure.” The 25-year-old was signed to Bundesliga outfit VfL Wolfsburg at the time, the club having laid out a club record €9 million to sign him from River Plate three years earlier. His time on the south coast would be short, but for many Pompey fans, it was no less sweet for being so brief.
In the manner of many South American imports to Europe, Wolfsburg had hoped they had signed the next Maradona or Aimar. Some transfers strike gold and although €9 million was a substantial chunk of money for the German club, had D’Alessandro delivered on the club’s hopes it could have looked like a bargain. Much as some transfers work out though, others turn out to be base metal, and the Argentine’s move to Germany fell unceremoniously into that category. Before signing the loan deal, D’Alessandro would make 71 appearances for Wolfburg, scoring 10 goals. It amounted to a relatively meagre return across two-and-a-half seasons, especially given the value of the transfer. Redknapp has always considered himself to have an eye for untapped talent, and he thought he could help the outcast turn the corner.
In the end, D’Alessandro would play a mere 13 games for Portsmouth, scoring just once – albeit the sort of strike that gets put forward for goal of the season – in a game which Pompey lost 2-1 to Charlton Athletic. There’s a certain poetic summary in that fact though, reflective of how Pompey fans viewed the few months in which D’Alessandro was with them. When the season was done, Portsmouth did survive, finishing four points clear of the drop zone. The record books will say that, as he only scored a single goal, and that during a defeat, D’Alessandro’s net contribution to the cause was somewhere between none and zero.
Football has never been a game easily reducible to just numbers and whilst there’s glory in goals, fans will always take to their hearts, the moments of majesty produced by the elegance of a flick, the wizardry of a dribble and the sheer entertainment value of seeing abundant skill on display. The ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of games that they had the opportunity of seeing Andrés D’Alessandro in their club’s colours were a joy to Portsmouth fans for that very reason.
A month before he arrived on the south coast, Portsmouth had visited Arsenal with a midfield containing the likes of Zvonimir Vukić and Jhon Viáfara; earnest players to be sure, but hardly the kind to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. It’s an assessment illustrated by the four-goal beating that Pompey took on that day. It’s said that the light of day is never fully appreciated unless you’ve experienced the darkness of night. Well, day broke for the Fratton Park faithful when Andrés D’Alessandro joined the club. The contrast was instantly identifiable. Workaday dullness stood abashed at the light. Where there had been toil, there were tingles, instead of effort there was elation, and possession of the ball was treasured. Goals can be works of wonder, or netted thanks to the vagaries of caprice. A skilled ball player though will never sully his hands with such compromises. A player that can make the ball dance to his tune is a joy forever, at least that is, until he takes his ball and goes away again.
Yet, there’s some added poignancy in only having a fleeting glimpse of a star player strutting his stuff for your team. It’s the taste that keeps you wanting for more. Had D’Alessandro joined Portsmouth on a permanent basis at the end of his loan spell, as seemed quite likely at the time, the memories Pompey had of him would have inevitably been somewhat diminished by familiarity?
Despite the reported efforts of Redknapp to keep D’Alessandro, it would have taken a bigger coup than the one he had engineered to get him on loan in the first place. The player’s agent, Barry McIntosh was making all the right noises. “We would have liked the deal with Portsmouth sorted out before Andres went back to Argentina. But the longer the situation is left the more difficult it will become. Right now, we have a window of opportunity where Andres is hot about the club. Like any ambitious player, Andres would like to see quality players arrive in the summer. He is an even better player with better players around him. But a player cannot dictate to a manager who to sign. Andres is not waiting to see who Harry Redknapp signs. He knows the manager is ambitious and wants to make the right signings to push the club towards a European place.”
Talking the talk is a prime asset of agents. Walking the walk can often be somewhat different. Instead, the Argentine moved to Real Zaragoza, insisting that it was a desire to play in Spain that influenced the decision. Although a four-year deal was agreed, he would spend only 18 months of it in Aragon before returning to Argentina with San Lorenzo for a short period, and then joining Internacional.
Fans of both Wolfburg and Real Zaragoza would probably consider that Andrés D’Alessandro failed to deliver at their clubs. On England’s south coast though fans of a blue persuasion would vehemently contest such thoughts. Although they only had Andrés D’Alessandro for a few short months, they cherish the memory of a fleeting glimpse of a genius at Portsmouth.