Defender Johan Vázquez: From Tokyo to Europe?

Johan Vásquez gives a thumbs up after scoring against Japan in the bronze-medal match at the Olympics. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)
Johan Vásquez gives a thumbs up after scoring against Japan in the bronze-medal match at the Olympics. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images) /
Vásquez to Europe?
Johan Vásquez celebrates after Mexico defeated Japan to earn the bronze medal at the Olympics. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images) /

Pumas defender Johan Vásquez had not even settled back into Mexico City after returning from Tokyo where he won a bronze medal with El Tri Olímpico when he was packing for a move to Genoa, Italy. Until he wasn’t.

Mexican media was abuzz with the breaking story that the 22-year-old UNAM back-liner from Sonora had been farmed out on loan to the Serie A club.

Soccer reporters cited Italian media figures confirming news that Genoa was forking over 3.5 million to 5 million euros for the budding star.

It looked like another young Mexican would be following Chivas striker J.J. Macías to Europe this summer and the breathless commentators shared details about the recruiting process (Argentine Diego Milito, a former star with the club had recommended him; Vásquez’s stand-out performance at the Olympics had Genoa’s attention; negotiations were quite advanced and his signing would occur in a matter of hours).

Vásquez enjoys rapid rise

Such is the nature of the transfer season, especially in summer. Wild rumors and half-truths start to circulate and gain momentum.

Around noon on Monday (Mexico City time), a Genoa spokesman told ESPN Digital that the club had no statement to make with regard to Vásquez.

This turn of events was quickly followed by reports that an unnamed Eredivisie club was in contact with the defender’s agent and Vásquez told reporters that there could be more information next week. So … we’ll wait for the next round of rumors.

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Despite the apparent setback, there’s no doubt that the lanky defender has turned heads in Europe. Mexico’s “Under-23” team marched to victory in the Concacaf qualifiers in March, outscoring its five opponents 11-2 on aggregate. El Tri defeated Honduras in the final thanks to a 5-4 triumph in a penalty shoot-out with Vásquez taking – and converting – the opening kick for Mexico. The defender’s steady play earned considerable notice.

El Tri Olímpico traveled to Spain in late May for a pre-Olympics training camp and Vásquez again played well as Mexico defeated Romania and Australia, while settling for a draw with Saudi Arabia. Shortly thereafter, reports suggested that Dutch club AZ Alkmaar had made inquiries about Vásquez’s availability.

In Tokyo, Vásquez was paired in the middle of El Tri’s defense with César Montes, another player who appears destined for Europe. Vásquez’s play was impeccable with only one single glitch – a red card for bringing down a Japanese player who had gotten behind the defense. El Tri was trailing 2-0 at the time and Vásquez was left with little choice but to take the foul and prevent the game from getting out of hand. As it turned out, Mexico narrowed the deficit to 2-1 but could not complete the comeback.

Vásquez got a measure of revenge in the bronze-medal match against Japan, scoring with a first-half header to put El Tri up 2-0 and Mexico went on to win 3-1.

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All this is reflected in the rapid increase in Vásquez’s valuation. As 2019 came to a close, the defender was valued at 1.1 million dollars while today that has increased to 6.6 million dollars. It’s no wonder the Pumas completed the acquisition of the rising star a few months ago as the loan agreement that brought him to Mexico City from Monterrey was expiring. That shrewd move figures to pay off for UNAM if a transaction can be worked out this summer.