Maurito Caballero: Like father, like son

(Article first featured on Lovely Left Foot 06/03/12)

Over the years there have been a number of notable footballers who have emulated their eminent fathers; Juan Sebastián Verón won the Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes in 2009 just as his father, Juan Ramón Verón, did in the late sixties, while Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and his father have both represented Mexico at the World Cup.  And then of course there is Johan and Jordi Cruyff….

Ok, so it doesn’t work everytime, but in Paraguay there is an exciting young striker who looks set to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Libertad striker Mauro Andrés Caballero, still just 17, is the latest starlet to emerge from Paraguay and also happens to be the son of legendary striker Mauro Antonio Caballero.  The elder left quite a legacy, finishing his career as Olimpia’s record all-time goalscorer and the second highest ever in the Paraguayan league with 107 goals.  He won the league 4 times with Olimpia (in 93, 95, 97 & 98), then once with Cerro Porteño in 2001, before returning to Olimpia to help them to the Copa Libertadores title in 2002 for only the third time in their history, followed by the Recopa Sudamericana the following year.  His international record just 2 goals in 14 caps for La Albirroja may not seem too impressive but his exploits for Olimpia mean he remains an idol in his native Paraguay.

And it seems “Maurito” has inherited his father’s goal-scoring genes.  Even though he is just 17, he has already grabbed a brace on his debut last season against Independiente de Campo Grande and has scored twice so far in the Libertadores this season, helping Libertad to wins against Alianza Lima and Nacional.  What’s more impressive is that in both games it was Caballero’s introduction from the bench that turned the games.

In the game against Alianza and with Libertad 1-0 down, Caballero came on and won a decisive penalty (albeit with a blatant dive) for the second goal and then scored himself, turning inside a defender and curling a lovely finish past the keeper, as Libertad emphatically came back to win 4-1. He may have even got another had Ibáñez not scored an own goal with Maurito lurking ready to tap in a cross at the back post.

Then against Nacional, Caballero came off the bench to score the winning goal as Libertad once again came from behind to win 2-1.  The second goal was one of pure striking instinct.  Caceres unleashed Ayala on the right who fired in a cross-come-shot with Caballero getting the slightest, but crucial, touch to guide it into the corner of the goal.  A huge goal that ensured that Libertad have a maximum six points from their opening two games.

He has also been prolific at international level for the under-15 and under-17 Paraguay national sides.  At the age of 14 he banged in a phenomenal 27 goals in 24 appearances for the under-15s, marking him out as one to watch.  He continued his impressive form with the under-17s, registering 5 goals in the South American championship last year and finishing as the tournament’s second highest scorer, apparently attracted some interest from Chelsea.

Caballero seems to have all the hallmarks of top striker.  Despite not being the tallest at 1.75m, Maurito makes up for it with fantastic heading ability and the energetic forward also possesses decent pace, good off the ball movement, and a deadly left foot that finds the goal with unerring accuracy.  A classic penalty box predator who is not afraid to mix it with bigger and more experienced opponents, Ralph Hannah has compared the youngster’s style to Robbie Fowler.

So what does the future hold for the heir to the Caballero throne?  Despite his precocious young age and the hefty expectations on his shoulders, Maurito certainly looks like he possesses what it takes to have a glittering career ahead of him.  The presence of his father should give him valuable guidance and help him cope with the pressures of professional football, while he is already gaining important Copa Libertadores experience and not looking out of place at all.  Hopefully he will remain in Paraguay for a couple of seasons so he can further develop and establish himself before moving on.  With Libertad’s money they shouldn’t be forced into selling him but if not a move to Brazil or Argentina could prove a good stepping stone.  It does seem almost inevitable that given the current trajectory of his career a move to Europe (something his father never did) will be on the cards at some point and he could well go on to lead the line for Paraguay in years to come.  Whether he eclipses his father’s notable achievements remains to be seen.