Five months later and Inter have the fourth centre-back that they were looking for.
On Monday evening, the Nerazzurri announced via their various social media profiles that they had completed their first signing of the January transfer window, confirming the arrival of Argentine defender Lisandro Lopez from Benfica.
“Inter have a new player and it’s Lisandro Ezequiel Lopez,” a statement on the club website read. “The Argentine defender has signed on loan until 30 June 2018 (with an option to make the switch permanent).”
According to Corriere dello Sport Inter will pay €450,000 for the initial loan, while their option to buy at the end of the season has been fixed at €9m.
Shortly before the official announcement was made, Lopez gave his first interview to Inter TV in which he described his move to the Nerazzurri as ‘a dream’.
“To play for a club such as Inter who are one of the biggest in Europe is a dream which means a lot for me”, he said. “I’ve come here to give a hand to the team, to help it reach its objectives.
There have been a lot of Argentines at Inter. Among others, Samuel, Zanetti and Milito come to mind and they’re all players who’ve made history. I hope to do well too.
I used to follow Serie A and it’s one of the best leagues in the world for me. It’s very tactical and very competitive - I’ll look to give my all and learn day by day.”
During the interview Lopez also confirmed that he had chosen to take the no. 2 shirt, the same number he wore at Benfica: “I’ve had it for many years and I like it. I was fortunate to find it free here so I had no doubts.” Recent owners of that shirt at Inter include Beppe Bergomi, Christian Panucci, Ivan Cordoba, Marco Andreolli and, of course, Jonathan.
After completing a medical in Milan on Monday morning Lopez took part in his first Inter training session in the afternoon, where Luciano Spalletti tried him out in a back four alongside Joao Cancelo, Miranda and Yuto Nagatomo.
Having arrived without any injury concerns the 28 year-old will be available for selection this weekend and should receive his first Serie A call-up when Inter face Roma at San Siro on Sunday - although with Miranda now fully recovered from the calf injury that he sustained last month, Lopez will most likely start on the bench.
So who is Lisandro Lopez, exactly, and what can Inter expect for their €450,000? Let’s return to the club’s statement for a rundown of his career so far:
“Born on 1 September 1989 in Villa Constitucion in the province of Santa Fe, Lopez developed as a player at Chacarita Juniors where he made his professional debut in the 2008-09 season.”
Curiously enough, Lopez will become the fifth footballer born in the city of Villa Constitución to play in Serie A, following in the footsteps of Abel Balbo (a Scudetto winner with Roma and a UEFA Cup winner with Parma at the turn of the century), Leonel Vangioni (who spent last season at Milan), Esteban Herrera and Sergio Berti. Evidently there’s something special about that place which attracts them to Italy.
“In 2010, he made 25 appearances and scored twice in the Liga Nacional before being signed by Arsenal Sarandì. In a red and blue shirt, Lisandro established himself as one of the most promising centre-backs in Argentine football.
In three seasons, he made 122 appearances and scored 17 goals in all competitions, winning the Clausura and the Argentine Supercup in 2012. Above all, Lisandro Lopez scored the winner in a 1-0 victory against Belgrano which saw Arsenal Sarandì win the Clausura and claim their first national title in club history.”
It was during his time at Arsenal that Lopez (who possesses a Spanish passport) made 4 appearances for the Argentine national team - his only 4 to date - leading newspaper La Nación to describe him as ‘the most solid and efficient Argentine defender in recent years’. He was also courted on several occasions by Boca Juniors, who despite their best efforts were never able to seal a deal for him.
“He moved to European football in the summer of 2013 when he was signed by Benfica, who loaned him to Getafe. He played 26 times in the league for the Spanish team and twice in the Copa del Rey, scoring four goals before returning to Portugal.
For the Águias, he played for three-and-a-half seasons, contributing as the club won three league titles, one Portuguese Cup, two League Cups and two Super Cups.”
In total Lopez made 54 appearances for Benfica in all competitions (scoring 6 goals) - 8 of which came in this current season - including 8 appearances in the UEFA Champions League. Over the past six months he had been kept out of the starting XI by club legend Luisao and Ruben Dias, a promising youngster promoted from Benfica’s B team in the summer.
What kind of player are we signing, then? Judging by the write-ups in the Italian media over the last few days, a pretty good one. Although new signings do often get talked up a little too much - take the rest of this article with a pinch of salt, if you so wish.
Lopez is described by Adriano Seu of Gazzetta dello Sport as ‘a mix of technical, tactical and human attributes who could complete Inter’s defensive department and solidify the dressing room in one fell swoop’. (That makes him sound like Franz Beckenbauer, but let’s roll with it.)
At 1.87cm (6 ft 2) in height and 80kg in weight it is no shock to hear former team-mate and Triplete hero Julio Cesar describe him as ‘a tough, solid and reliable defender’, but more than for his imposing physique Lopez, right-footed, is said to impress for his versatility and positional sense.
“I’ve always liked studying movements and positioning,” he stated upon his arrival at Benfica, “because I think the strategic side of football is vital, especially for defenders.” With that in mind it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that he is comfortable playing in both a back three and a back four; nor that he has even played at right-back on a few occasions.
Just as noteworthy as his tactical flexibility however is his knack for scoring goals - a quality which could certainly be of use to Inter given their over-reliance on Mauro Icardi up front.
In 229 career appearances Lopez has found the net on 29 occasions, making for a ratio of 1 goal every 7.9 games - not too shabby for a centre-back. Not too unusual, either, given that he began his career in Chacarita’s youth system as a striker, before being moved into defence at the age of 13. “At first my idol was Batistuta, and then my role models became Ayala, Pique and Sergio Ramos”, he once said.
As well as the aforementioned goal that helped Arsenal win the Clausura championship in 2012, Lopez has another huge goal to his name from his time at Benfica - in November last season he scored a stoppage-time equaliser that earned the Eagles a draw against title rivals Porto at the Estádio do Dragão. A goal that protected Benfica’s lead at the top of the table and, in its own small way, enabled them to seal a fourth consecutive Primeira Liga title at the end of the year.
And that leads us nicely onto the other quality of his which is often exalted by team-mates and onlookers: his leadership. Although quite what form this leadership takes differs depending on who you listen to.
According to Seu, Lopez is a ‘silent leader’. “In nine years between Argentina, Spain and Portugal,” he writes, “he has never attracted attention for his behaviour off the pitch. Used to shunning the spotlight, Lopez is the typical antidivo [a low-profile star] who prefers to divide up his time between family and football. All thanks to his father, once himself a footballer at a small club in Villa Constitución, and his mother, whom Lisandro has tattooed on his left forearm: ‘it was from them that I learned about the importance of work and sacrifice.’”
Listening to Julio Cesar, however, one gets the impression of a more extroverted character. “As well as on the pitch he will certainly make his presence felt in the Inter dressing room,” the Brazilian told Gazzetta in an interview on Saturday. “He’s a dressing-room man; a great guy, he likes having a laugh and he gets on with everyone. We had a ritual at Benfica that he would come and hug me after every goal we scored.”
“Him and I used to joke about loads. I’d arrive at training and pretend not to see him and he’d pretend to get annoyed about it - ‘Look, Zanetti, Cambiasso and Milito aren’t here anymore, now I’m in your dressing room you have to say hello to me!’ Now he’ll be the one entering the Pinetina... I’ll call him soon to wish him good luck.”
On top of the glowing endorsement from the Acchiappasogni himself, Lopez has also been welcomed positively to the club by Head Coach Luciano Spalletti and Milan Skriniar, a man Julio Cesar believes he will be able to teach a lot.
When asked on Monday if he was satisfied at the Argentine’s arrival Spalletti responded with a ‘yes’, before adding ‘it’s confirmation of what I was saying the other day, that [in Ausilio and Sabatini] we have two good directors. I’m convinced that their skill puts us ahead of other competitors.”. Skriniar meanwhile told reporters that “He will help us a lot; we were short for numbers at the back, with him on board we’re even stronger than we were before.”
So there you have it. We have finally signed the centre-back that even Spalletti’s 80 year-old mother knew we needed, and if any of the people mentioned above know what they’re talking about then he might just be able to help us out in the second half of the season.