Why Leo Baptistao Can Be the Surprise La Liga Star of 2013

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2013

Leo Baptistao. Photo Courtesy of Goal.com
Leo Baptistao. Photo Courtesy of Goal.com

Anyone who has read Futbol: The Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos will know all about the significance of Samba exports across the World.

Those who haven't probably have a pretty good idea, too.

Mix that with an extensive list of extremely talented players coming through at Spanish clubs—from Messi to Silva, Isco to Muniain—and you have all the ingredients for a superstar. 

The difference with this young Brazilian—soon to be generating waves of interest across Europe—is the club he is at. While a young Kaka made his name at Milan, Oscar and Neymar currently play for Chelsea and Santos, Leo Baptistao's career is slipping into gear steadily at Rayo Vallecano.

He couldn't be more grateful to the club based in Vallecas, Madrid.

Far from the favela stories of some Brazilian greats, Baptistao actually recieved a middle-class upbringing in Santos. It was when he arrived in Spain at 16, that he endured a difficult road to get to where he is now.

Initially, it was hepatitis which struck his progress. He was forced to return to his homeland to be treated by his dad—a doctor.

By July 2011, healthy and back at Rayo, he was ready for preseason. Except again, it was not that easy. A collarbone injury in a friendly meant that he would not play for the first team throughout the whole season. By July 2012, though, he truly was ready.

His debut set the bar. Against Real Betis he assisted Piti’s opener before adding the winner. Already in the first half the season, the Brazilian has weighed in with six goals and four assists (via WhoScored) propelling Rayo into the lofty heights of eighth in La Liga.

He offers pace and the all-too-rare ability to beat a man when playing outside, when playing just off of a front man he offers—as already proven this season—a valuable contribution to the goals scored column.

It is not just complete individual talent that has forced him to the top of the "La Liga to watch" list though, he displays a great understanding with his teammates, keeping his head up and playing sensible passes when required.

The most ironic thing about his development is that while most clubs are cursing not taking a chance on Michu, Vallecano are—to an extent—happy that his sale has allowed Baptistao the platform to become the player they always hoped he would.

Baptistao turned 20 in August and after his impressive debut against Real Betis, he declared himself "the happiest kid in the world."

Spanish paper AS have already linked him to Atletico Madrid, if he continues to raise his own bar as he has done this season then that happy kid will soon have more than just Los Rojiblancos forming a queue at his door.

With an €8 million release clause, he could well be the next bargain leaving Vallecas.