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Tom Robinson brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-21 players to watch out for in La Liga this season.
In the unpredictable and turbulent world of Argentinian football, one thing you can always rely on is the steady flow of youngsters making a name for themselves – and this season, whenever it does eventually start, promises to be no different.
In the last edition, young stars Gustavo Gomez, Miguel Almiron and Jose Luis Gomez were all standouts for Lanus as they romped to the Transicion title in impressive fashion, while many of the division’s top prospects have now earned big moves off the back of their performances.
Central’s playmaker Giovani Lo Celso, arguably the best youngster over last 12 months, signed for PSG and teammate Franco Cervi traded Rosario for Lisbon after completing his move to Benfica. Outstanding defensive prospect Emmanuel Mammana was picked up by Lyon for an €8m move and San Lorenzo’s mercurial playmaker Alan Ruiz sealed a move to Sporting Lisbon after eye-catching performances on loan at Colon. Elsewhere Roger Martinez, Cristian Espinoza, Hernan Toledo, Hector Villalba and Gio Simeone all packed their backs for exciting opportunities abroad.
So now some of the best cracks have departed, which U21 talents are set to step up and fill their shoes?
Santiago Ascacibar // Estudiantes // 19 // Defensive Midfielder
The tenacious 19-year-old defensive midfielder was the revelation of the Torneo Transicion as Estudiantes finished as runners-up in Group B behind runaway leaders Lanus. Eyebrows were initially raised when Gaston Gil Romero was allowed to move on loan to Rosario Central but Pincha fans needn’t have worried as Ascacibar more than stepped up with his tough-tackling performances at the base of the midfield. In fact, no player averaged more tackles per game (4.6) than the La Plata tyro.
One of the few players who emerged from the Argentina U23 Olympic debacle with his reputation enhanced, Ascacibar is a midfield enforcer very much in the mould of Javier Mascherano and could provide the excellent Matias Kranevitter with some competition for the national team number 5 shirt for years to come.
Cristian Pavon // Boca Juniors // 19 // Wide Forward
Boca have a number of interesting prospects currently on their books. The likes of Cubas, Cristaldo and Juventus-bound Bentancur are already well-established and Leszczuk, Messidoro, Maroni and Chicco are all up-and-coming too. But the player currently looking most likely to make a significant impact this season is wide forward Cristian Pavon.
The 19-year-old first announced himself midway through 2015 with a goal against River in the Superclasico but then struggled for game time until the arrival of Guillermo Barros Schelotto saw an upturn in his fortunes. Rapid and direct, Kichan’s style of play perfectly suited the 4-3-3 formation preferred by Barros Schelotto and made a significant contribution in Boca’s Libertadores campaign, scoring four goals in eight games, before they were knocked out by Independiente del Valle in the semi-final. This season should see a first consistent run of first team football in the Primera for Pavon and he could be a key weapon in Boca’s artillery.
Santiago Rosales // Racing // 21 // Attacking Midfielder
Attacking midfielder Rosales was often the catalyst behind the good performances for Aldosivi since their promotion to the Primera and Racing beat off competition from River and Benfica to sign the 21-year-old this summer. Typically a left-sided playmaker, Rosales possesses a deft touch, decent pace and vision, as demonstrated by his five assists last season. Able to shoot well off either foot, he also managed two goals for el Tiburon but in a better Racing side will expect to add more goals to his game, as well as take some of the creative burden off Oscar Romero. A canny signing for La Academia.
Lucas Janson // Tigre // 22 // Striker
The Tigre striker has been around for some time now, having made his debut all the way back in 2012, but really kicked on last season with six goals and four assists for El Matador. Under coach Pedro Troglio, Janson has been given confidence and continuity which he has repaid with improved performances and, importantly, goals. River have been monitoring him for a while now but Tigre will be desperate to keep hold of the diminutive, skilful forward. Alongside the likes of Sebastian Rincon, Alexis Castro and Kevin Itabel, there is a youthful vein running through the squad which could cause a few surprises this season.
Alexander Barboza // Defensa y Justicia // 21 // Center Back
On loan from River, the tall, ball-playing, left-footed centre-back was a regular in the heart of defence for an overachieving Defensa y Justicia, who eventually finished fourth in Group B last season. Aerially one of the best in the division, Barboza scored an impressive WhoScored rating of 7.12 in a team principally made up of young loanees such as Lisandro Magallan and Tomas Pochettino of Boca, former River duo Guido Rodriguez and Tommy Martinez, and San Lorenzo defensive prospect Tomas Cardona.
Newell’s were interested in acquiring his services but the offer was rejected and Barboza will spend another season in Florencio Varela, honing his game away from the high expectations of River. Given that Argentina are not blessed with plentiful defensive prospects, it will be interesting to see how Barboza and Cardona perform this year at Defensa y Justicia as they aim to punch above their weight again.
Nicolas Gimenez // Talleres // 20 // Box-to-Box Midfielder
Following an impressive season in the B Nacional with Nueva Chicago, Gimenez elected to join newly-promoted Talleres, the sleeping giants from Cordoba who return to the Primera after a twelve-year absence. Gimenez, now 20, has already experienced top flight football with Nueva Chicago, making some eye-catching performances as the Mataderos outfit almost made a miraculous escape from relegation in 2015. A season in the second division has seen him flourish. The powerful midfielder is equally adept at a box-to-box role or further forward in a number 10 role and his Frank Lampard-esque late surges into the area saw him chalk up 8 goals in 21 games. Gimenez offers something a little different from the usual midfielders that Argentina produces and Talleres will be hoping for an instant impact, especially now that promising striker Nazareno Solis has moved to Boca.
Maxi Romero // Velez Sarsfield // 17 // Forward
The young Velez wonderkid was on the verge of joining Arsenal back in 2015 before a ruptured ACL scuppered a move to North London. Still only 17, Romero has recovered strongly and has begun to make in-roads into the Velez first team, scoring three times in eleven appearances for el Fortin. His strike against Godoy Cruz – a lashed left-footed half-volley – perfectly demonstrated the acceleration, technique and striker’s instinct that make him such an exciting prospect. Velez are never short of young talent and Romero, along with the likes of Yamil Asad, Fabricio Alvarenga and Nicolas Delgadillo, should be given plenty of opportunity to gain experience and develop at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani. This could be the year he really breaks through and makes his mark.
Augusto Batalla // River Plate // 20 // Goalkeeper
It’s set to be a big season for River’s highly-rated goalkeeper Augusto Batalla. He has big shoes to fill if he is to replicate the consistently solid performances of Marcelo Barovero, who has now moved to Mexico after a trophy-laden four years at the Monumental. Nevertheless, Batalla has been long-tipped as a big talent. The Number 1 for Argentina U17s and U20s, he turned down a move to Real Madrid in order to stay and increase his chances of regular game time and now has the opportunity to represent one of the biggest clubs on the continent.
An excellent shot-stopper with great reflexes and agility, Batalla is also a leader on and off the pitch. His first few games for River have been somewhat inauspicious but the 20-year-old has the requisite confidence and mental strength to persevere and show his undeniable talent. It’s not often you see young keepers starting in Argentina but with Atletico Madrid new boy Axel Werner being loaned to Boca, we could potentially see the country’s two biggest clubs with rookies between the posts.
Alejandro Romero Gamarra // Huracan // 21 // Midfielder
Romero Gamarra has been on the OOTB radar for some time now and has developed nicely, becoming a regular for Huracan in the Primera over the past couple of seasons. As well as being part of the Globo squad that finished as 2015 Sudamericana runners-up, Romero Gamarra shone during their recent Libertadores campaign with his creativity and whippet-like dribbling. Now that fellow prospect Cristian Espinoza and burly striker Ramon Abila have both moved on to pastures new, there will be an increased onus on Romero Gamarra to create and contribute more goals for a new-look Quemeros.
Guido Vadala // Union de Santa Fe // 19 // Forward
The Rosario-born prodigy emerged with a huge reputation from Boca and drew comparisons with Lionel Messi at youth level before moving to Juventus as part of the Carlos Tevez deal. Yet to make his debut for la Vecchia Signora first team, Vadala has been part of the Primavera side that finished runner up in both the U19 league and cup. Having only made a few fleeting appearances for Boca, the 19-year-old twinkle-toed starlet now has the opportunity to show everyone what the fuss is all about, back in the familiar surroundings of his home province. It could be an inspired piece of business for Union and should give the precocious teen sensation freedom to make up for lost time away from the bright lights of Buenos Aires.