Mainz winger Pablo de Blasis may only stand five feet and five inches tall, but the Argentine has been proving since the day he arrived in Germany that good things really do come in small packages.
The Mainz supporters found out about de Blasis’ talent the hard way. In August 2014, they watched on helplessly as the diminutive Argentine inspired his former club Asteras Tripolis to a 3-1 home win over the 05ers, grabbing a goal and an assist to book the Greeks a place in the UEFA Europa League play-offs at the expense of their German opponents.
The performance would turn out to have life-changing consequences. Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel was so impressed that he got in touch with de Blasis about making the switch to the Bundesliga. By the end of that month, he had put pen to paper on a three-year contract with the Rhineland-Palatinate club.
“Pablo de Blasis convinced us of his qualities in the Europa League,” Heidel said at the time. “He will give our team fresh impetus and enable us to be even more flexible in attack.”
“It was an easy decision for me, because the Bundesliga is a bigger championship than the Greek Super League,” de Blasis told kicker. “It’s a dream come true. When I was young I always wanted to play in England, Spain or Germany. In the Bundesliga everything is faster, it’s perfect football.”
Happily for Mainz, time has done nothing to blunt de Blasis’ enthusiasm. Now approaching 30 years of age, the Argentine is in his fourth season with the 05ers, having signed a one-year contract extension last August. He may be one of the smallest players in the Bundesliga, but his larger-than-life personality on the pitch has made him a firm favourite at the Opel Arena.
“When you give 100 per cent, the fans recognise it and appreciate it,” he explained to Diario Hoy, a newspaper based in his hometown of La Plata. “Anyone can have talent, but not necessarily the attitude that goes with it. Argentinians have that never-say-die approach.”
De Blasis began his career at local side Gimnasia, but failed to establish himself in the first team after coming through the youth ranks. Following two seasons on loan with second-tier Ferro Carril Oeste, he made the switch to Europe in the summer of 2012, joining Asteras on a free transfer. He notched 20 goals and 17 assists in 90 games for the Greeks before Mainz came calling two years later.
“The key is the education I had back home,” he explained. “At Gimnasia, I had very good coaches and teammates who taught me important lessons about football. And at home, my parents didn’t allow me to do anything without the right attitude.”
That mentality has enabled de Blasis to become a crucial cog in the Mainz machine. An attacking midfielder by trade, his low centre of gravity and quick feet make him a nightmare for defenders, and he has popped up with some important goals over the years – most recently the winning penalty in the Matchday 6 victory over Hertha Berlin, Mainz’s 500th goal in the Bundesliga.
“It’s a nice piece of trivia,” he said afterwards. “It’s great to have made my mark on the history of the club. And more importantly, we got back to winning ways, which is good for the team’s confidence.”
De Blasis has started six of the 05ers’ eight games this season, including their three wins over Bayer Leverkusen, Hertha and Hamburg. He proved last term that he can also operate as an impact substitute, grabbing a career-high five goals and five assists in the Bundesliga in spite of making nearly half of his 31 appearances from the bench. Mainz have never lost a top-flight game in which de Blasis has scored – so far it’s eight wins and a draw – and impressively, for a player of his stature, three of his 11 league goals have been headers.
“I’m really enjoying how things are going in Germany at the moment,” he said at the start of October. “It’s already my fourth year in Mainz, and I feel very comfortable here. I’m happy.”
Mainz are happy to have him on board too. And after a mixed start to 2017/18, they will be hoping that de Blasis – a player who once haunted them on the European scene – can inspire them to another continental campaign.