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Santiago Vergini: A Beautiful Enigma

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Don't try to figure out Santiago Vergini, says 'A Love Supreme' editor Chris Thompson, just love him.

Clive Mason

Many of life's apparent norms often leave me puzzled. Why do people like peanut butter? How is 'Celebrity Juice' funny? How can people take sugar in their coffee?

Explanations can be offered but they will never satisfy me. No subject is perhaps more pondering to me though than the performances of Santiago Vergini, who can go from amazing to terrible, and vice-versa, in mere seconds.

Begin forming your opinion by visualising the player in your head. Standing at six feet and three inches, shoulders square like a valiant medieval knight, hair dark and shimmering, sculpted yet wild. Eyes of deep mahogany, a stare penetrating yet mesmerising. A face chiseled like a bronze immortal, a tuft of hair under-chin that says; "I can grow a beard, I just don't have to, I'm man enough already".

Now you have the lad himself firm in your mind, visualise his performances. Think of something great he has done, then think of something terrible he has done. It's so easy. He is unique in that every time he plays, he has the potential to do something genius or profoundly stupid. Sometimes he even does both in the same game. It is mind-blowing.

When Vergini first joined us in January of this year, his opening performances led me to believe that he had never even seen, never mind kicked a football in his life. Poyet seemed to pluck him out of thin air, complete obscurity, and slot him into a Premier League side which begged for solid defensive performances. His first league start came in a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal, for which an extremely dodgy back-pass made him unambiguously culpable for one goal, as well as nearly scoring a spectacular own goal later in the match.

Fast forward to our 2-1 away defeat to Liverpool where Santi should have been sent off in the first half for bringing down Luis Suarez despite being the last man. Content with merely a yellow card, he did the exact same thing just minutes later yet somehow escaped a second yellow. He was both careless and clueless, but in a genuine and blissfully ignorant type way, like a puppy pissing on your carpet, don't scold him, he doesn't know any better.

Isolated instances aside, his general decision making was also bewildering. Offside traps were no more, seeing three Sunderland defenders rush out in unison only for Vergini to be left standing on the edge of the six yard box scratching his head was becoming commonplace. He would proudly clear the ball in whichever direction he was standing, consequences of doing so at the back of his mind. He was a toddler running onto the pitch during a Sunday league match, not a care in the world, self-awareness deficient.

The infamous own goal against Southampton, and his tackle on Fraizer Campbell against Palace, which was a firm penalty and potentially a red card, demonstrate that Santi is still susceptible to brain-farts and moments of madness. As I have alluded to however, he is capable of things much greater.

Throughout his dreadful performances, Gus Poyet and a large section of supporters maintained that Santi was occasionally very capable on the ball, his passing was well crafted and he showed flashes of superb technique, albeit just that - flashes. Once pushed out to right back in the latter stages of last season however, Vergini played an absolutely crucial part in keeping us in the league, driving forward from deep with the ball at his feet, his close control in the wide areas a joy to behold, proving not only a better option than Phil Bardsley going forward but also by his defensive discipline.

The decision to bring him back this season on loan was met positively, he is the only surviving member of Poyet's South American boy band and has generally been quite solid defensively apart from the outstanding memories.

What baffles me is how someone who spent 30 seconds with the ball at his feet against Arsenal, beating every player in his wake with a combination of drag backs, nutmegs, Cruyff turns and roulettes, be the same player who volleyed the ball into his own net from 18 yards in the previous match. How can a player who hacks a striker down in the box after 30 seconds of a match go on to start plucking balls out of the sky and volleying them at goal later in the game?

Is he a genius? Is he a moron?

Perhaps Vergini lacks composure, his ability is not an issue but he is full of panic. Has Santi morphed into our Rain Man? Give him an impossible task and he'll complete it with grace and ease, but give him a simple clearance on the edge of the box and he'll start hitting himself in the head, screaming about phase 3.

In the absence of van Aanholt, I think we can expect to see Vergini at right back again with Reveillere filling in at left back, and there are certainly worse options to have in your team. Afterall, even when Santiago Vergini is at his very worst, he's still better than Altidore.