Being called up to represent your country at a World Cup is considered by many to be the pinnacle of any soccer career. It’s understandable therefore that Pablo Paz, who represented Argentina in France in 1998, may not have expected his son, Nico, to be on track to surpass even his achievements.
Pablo Paz enjoyed a 21-year career taking him from his native Argentina to Spain as a no-nonsense central defender who settled in Tenerife, making over 100 appearances for the team. It was there that his son Nico was born in September 2004.
Less than 18 years later, he had been called up to the senior Argentina squad just months before the country won the World Cup. 19 years later, he was making his debut for Real Madrid in the Champions League.
It has been some journey for Nico, who joined Real Madrid at the age of 12. That was when he and his family upped sticks to move to the Spanish capital and swap Tenerife for Madrid, making the transfer move that his father could only have dreamt of.
Seven years later, he has worked his way up through the system to find his way into Carlo Ancelotti’s thinking for the first-team set-up. Now, injuries to Aurelién Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga have opened up the door of opportunity and Nico Paz is ready to walk through.
Nico Paz’s style of play
Nico Paz is an interior midfielder who tends to play on the right of a midfield three and offer a real box-to-box threat. The most direct comparison within the current squad would be to Fede Valverde, the Uruguayan midfielder who made the same journey through La Fábrica to make his debut for the first team.
Having come through the ranks, most recently featuring in Álvaro Arbeloa’s Juvenil A team and Raúl’s Castilla side, he knows the way in which Real Madrid play. “Nico Paz has the potential to play in the first team,” Carlo Ancelotti reflected in the summer. “He is doing very well with Arbeloa and the times he was used by Raúl he has also done very well in Castilla.”
Although he prefers to play on the right, he is left-footed and loves to cut inside and produce efforts on goal from distance on his stronger foot. His shooting from distance is impressive and helped him to rack up five goals in as many games for Castilla in September and October.
He also has an impressive passing range and vision, averaging 0.23 expected assists per 90 minutes this season, with an average of 2.67 passes into the final third per game. He progresses the ball well, either through his distribution or his dribbling, where his 6.45 dribbles per 90 is the highest in the Castilla squad.
Defensively he is also sound, having started his career in a deeper position, but some question how that will translate in the context of elite senior football. However, Defensa Central report that defender Antonio Rüdiger made a point about Paz’s strength after he joined the first team for training, saying that the youngster was stronger than he is. Coming from the 6 foot, 3 inch, German international, that is some praise indeed.
How could Nico Paz fit into the Real Madrid team?
There can be little doubting that Nico Paz is now ready to make the step up into the first team. After his first training session with the senior side in preseason in the summer, Toni Kroos said, “this boy should train with us every day because he is very good!”
His energy and ability to carry the ball forward make him an ideal option to have off the bench during this intense period with a congested fixture list and several injuries already piling up for Ancelotti.
Able to play on the left or right of the current midfield diamond shape, Paz should have no problem settling into the system. Just as he has many similarities to Fede Valverde, he also opens up the option to move the Uruguayan or Kroos into the holding role, freeing up a room in the central two. Equally, he offers an alternative to Luka Modrić, whose stamina is not what it once was and will need his game time managed at the age of 38.
What Paz will need to work on is something that Ancelotti himself told Paz ahead of his debut, “defend well”. The Italian has not been overly generous with his introduction of young players at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, and he’s unlikely to take risks unless Paz can prove himself. Even so, it seems he will be given a chance sooner rather than later.