Valentino Lazaro: The most talented Austrian since David Alaba shining at Hertha Berlin
Following his maiden Bundesliga goal in a superb 2-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen, bundesliga.com shines the spotlight on the Austrian sensation, who is taking the capital and the country by storm…
Hertha had not won a game in Leverkusen since way back in October 2008, but Lazaro helped to serve up their first victory at the BayArena in almost a decade as he slotted coolly past Bernd Leno for the opening goal on the stroke of half-time, helping his side pick up their first win of the calendar year.
“I’m obviously delighted to have scored my first goal in the Bundesliga,” Lazaro told Hertha’s official website, having dedicated his effort against Die Werkself to his mother – on her birthday. “It’s a lovely present for her. But I want to contribute a lot more goals and assists in the future.”
The 21-year-old’s first Bundesliga strike came after he had set up Hertha’s four previous league goals during a sizzling run: two in the excellent 3-2 win over RB Leipzig before Christmas, and two more in 1-1 draws with high-fliers Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim since the turn of the year. The Austrian is now the capital club’s leading assist provider this term, with five in total – although coach Dardai was quick to warn him against any complacency.
“I told him that you don’t get any special praise in Germany for a goal,” the Hungarian revealed. “You can be happy, but then you have to work hard for the next game. Last week, I told him he owed me a goal and today he scored, which is really nice.”
Watch: Lazaro scores first Bundesliga goal!
Lazaro joined Hertha last summer on a loan deal from Red Bull Salzburg, but the move became permanent in November after the young winger made his fifth competitive start for the club, in a 3-3 draw with Wolfsburg. That appearance triggered an automatic buy-out clause in his contract, which means ‘Tino’ is now linked to Hertha until June 2021.
“From the moment he arrived, Valentino has shown why we brought him in,” sporting director Michael Preetz enthused at the time. “He has huge potential and he’s a good fit for our team, which is why we’re counting on him in the long term.”
“I’ve felt very much at home at Hertha since day one, both in the team and the city,” Lazaro added. “I’m delighted the club have put their faith in me, and I’ll do everything I can to pay them back by performing well.”
So far, so good. Since extending his stay in the capital, Lazaro has become a regular fixture, earning a spot in Dardai’s starting line-up for Hertha’s last seven Bundesliga outings. Over that period, they have won three, drawn three and lost just one, despite playing three teams currently in the top five: Leipzig, Dortmund and Leverkusen. They are 11th in the table, and 10 points clear of the relegation play-off place.
One of the reasons Hertha were so keen to secure Lazaro’s services from Salzburg is his great versatility. Nominally a right winger, the 21-year-old can actually play in any of the wide positions on either side of the pitch, be it in defence or attack. Nimble and sharp-eyed, he has also been deployed as a defensive or a more creative midfield player, while his dead-ball delivery is second to none. In the Matchday 17 win over Leipzig, for example, he grabbed his two assists from set pieces, as well as providing cover in several positions following Jordan Torunarigha’s seventh-minute dismissal.
“I always try to give everything, and assist if I can,” he declared, after 10-man Hertha held on to take all three points at the Red Bull Arena. “The game in Leipzig showed exactly how I can help the team in a number of roles.”
Lazaro became Salzburg’s youngest ever player in the Austrian Bundesliga when he made his debut against Admira Wacker in November 2012, at just 16 years and 224 days, but his rapid progress was halted by a series of injuries – part of the reason Hertha only signed him on loan to begin with. Nevertheless, having been handed that first senior start by future Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt, he went on to help Salzburg secure league and cup doubles in four consecutive seasons, contributing a total of 11 goals and 13 assists in 87 top-flight appearances.
Although he represented Austria at youth level, Lazaro was actually eligible to play for three countries, having been born in Graz to an Angolan father and an Austrian mother with Greek roots. That perhaps explains why Marcel Koller called him up to the Austria squad for a handful of substitute appearances in 2014: friendlies against Iceland and the Czech Republic, and UEFA Euro 2016 qualifiers against Sweden and Montenegro.
Though he dropped off the international radar over the next two years, Lazaro only narrowly missed out on going to the Euro itself in 2016. He was a surprise inclusion in Koller’s provisional 24-man squad for the tournament, although the coach had made it clear that he would only travel to France if another player got injured. In the end, that wasn’t the case.
“I’m not disappointed,” Lazaro insisted after being struck from the final 23-man list. “Of course, I would have liked to be in France, but we discussed everything very clearly in advance with the coach. I’ll be crossing my fingers for the team at the Euro, and then I’ll work hard to get involved in World Cup qualification.”
It turned out to be a very forgettable tournament for Bayern’s David Alaba and Co. as they crashed out in the group stages. While Lazaro did return for a number of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Austria also missed out on this summer’s showpiece in Russia, finishing fourth in their group. They probably ended up wishing an injury-hit Lazaro was more available – in the four qualifiers in which he played, they won three and drew one. In the six that he wasn’t, it was one win, two draws and three defeats.
Indeed, fitness appears to be the key for the 21-year-old as he looks to help Hertha continue their charge up the Bundesliga table and Dardai is determined to see it continue.
Watch: Lazaro assists two of Hertha’s three goals at Leipzig!
“We’re very happy with his development – that’s why we signed him,” the coach said. “He’s in excellent condition at the moment, but the most important thing for his career right now is that he stays healthy. He has a lot of work to do in the weights room – he has to take that seriously.”
These may still be early days in Lazaro’s Bundesliga career, but after showing what he is capable of in recent weeks, ‘Tino’ is definitely one to keep an eye on. While he has largely been limited to a supporting role thus far, the Austrian wonderkid clearly has the potential and the talent to become Hertha’s leading man.