As the end of the season beckons across South America, it is time for us at Outside of the Boot to recognize the accomplishments of tomorrow’s stars under our Talent Radar banner, with the U-21 Team of the Season across each individual top leagues being featured for the fourth consecutive year. This feature looks at the best of the Argentinian Primera.
[Eligibility: As of 1st June 2016 – 21 years old and below for outfield players // 22 years old and below for goalkeepers]
The Argentinian season has finally drawn to a close with Boca Juniors named champion for the 32nd time in their storied history. Although it was a deserved title for Boca, who lead the pack from the 13th round onwards, it was by no means as assured as their stranglehold on the top spot might suggest.
Estudiantes started strongly but faded and allowed a Tevez-led Boca to claim pole position by December. Carlito’s depature to Shanghai Shenhua threatened to derail their campaign but the attacking triumvirate of Ricardo Centurion, Cristian Pavon and Dario Benedetto and guile of Fernando Gago saw los Xenezies over the line.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto added a first league title as manager to the long list of silverware from his playing days but his favoured 4-3-3 system, although ultimately successful, lacked the style and execution of previous incarnations at Lanus. Indeed, whenever Boca dropped points they were fortunate that their rivals were unable to take advantage.
Newell’s and San Lorenzo were the most consistent challengers over the course of the season but the former hit a massive slump at the start of May and sunk like a stone, while the latter were focused on the Libertadores and finished 7th. At one stage it looked like a resurgent River might make a late bid for the title but their transitional first half of the season meant it was too little too late and they finished as runners up nine points adrift.
Huge credit must also go to Banfield who were never out of the picture and surprised everyone with a 5th place finish, while Avellaneda duo Racing and Independiente finished 4th and 6th respectively.
What the Primera may have lacked in quality, it made up for in its showcasing of young talent. As ever, there were a number of impressive performances from emerging prospects and Outside of the Boot has compiled it’s now customary best XI of players aged 21 or under when the season started back at the tail end of August last year.
Agustín Rossi // 21 // Boca Juniors // Goalkeeper: Always a difficult position to fill due to the lack of young options but this proved to be a straight shoot-out between the young keepers of the two biggest clubs in the country. While Augusto Batalla has struggled at River, Agustin Rossi has come in midway through the season and consolidated the number one jersey at Boca with reliable if albeit unspectacular performances. Signed from Estudiantes for €1.4m, Rossi had been on loan at Defensa y Justicia for the first half of the season, keeping 5 clean sheets in 10 games. The former Chacarita and U20 international displayed good shot stopping ability and concentration in his 16 matches, conceding just 12 times as Boca won the league.
Fabricio Bustos // 21 // Independiente // Right Back: Independiente started the season poorly but the appointment of Ariel Holan seemed to reinvigorate them and they finished strongly in 6th. Bustos was a beneficiary of Holan’s arrival and had a fantastic second half of the season. A pacey, attack-minded full back who can also operate on the right wing, Bustos likes a dribble as much as a full-blooded challenge and typified the new, proactive mentality to the team’s style of play. Although he needs to work on his crossing and aerial ability, he could potentially prove to be a possible solution to Argentina’s lack of depth at full back.
Lucas Martinez Quarta // 21 // River Plate // Centre Back: River’s first half of the season was dogged with defensive issues after a poor transfer window. Luciano Lollo was hampered by injury and Arturo Mina didn’t recapture the form he showed for Independiente del Valle, opening the door for academy product Lucas Martinez Quarta. Good with the ball at his feet, Martinez Quarta fits the River style of defending and has grown into the role of starter to become a regular alongside Jonathan Maidana as a rejuvenated River mounted a late title bid and cruised through their Libertadores group. However, his season ended in controversy after he tested positive for diuretic hydrochlorothiazide but hopefully this doesn’t stain what has been an excellent year for the youngster.
Alexander Barboza // 22 // Defensa y Justicia // Centre Back: Arguably one of the best and certainly one of the most under-rated defenders in the league over the last 18 months, Barboza had another excellent season on loan at Defensa y Justicia as part of the joint-tightest defence in the league. A ball-playing centre back and great in the air, he was an ever-present of el Halcón’s back three and formed a good partnership alongside the likes of Mariano Bareiro and Tomas Cardona, while also contributing at the other end with six goals. Only Colon’s German Conti – just too old for this list – made more clearances than Barboza this season and surely he must be staking a claim for a starting place at parent club River Plate next campaign.
Ian Escobar // 21 // Talleres // Left Back: Talleres returned to the top flight after a 12 year absence and had a great first season back, finishing in 15th position. A team packed with youth, La ‘T’ were epitomised by their two full backs, Ian Escobar on the left and Leonardo Godoy on the right. Another Chacarita graduate on the list, Escobar showed plenty of energy to get up and down his flank, used the ball well when in possession and was solid defensively in his 22 appearances.
Rodrigo Bentancur // 19 // Boca Juniors // Centre Midfield: Although Boca fans have never truly taken too him, Bentancur was an ever present in Boca’s title winning midfield until his departure for the U20 World Cup with Uruguay. The tall 19-year-old has a languid guile of a by-gone era and possesses neat, tidy passing, averaging 82.6% pass completion this season. What has most impressed this season is the defensive side to his game as he has slowly transformed into a deep-lying regista, rather than perhaps the number 10 many had earmarked him as. There are still questions about his output in the final third and as to whether he can truly control a game, especially when pressed hard, but Juventus have seen enough to bring him to Turin this summer and it should be a great place to develop a player with undoubted ability.
Alexis Castro // 22 // Tigre // Centre Midfield: Quietly going about his business but in a very effective manner, Castro has been one of the surprise revelations of the season. Playing in a poor Tigre side that finished near the bottom of the table, the box-to-box midfielder has still been able to shine. Whether putting in tackles and intercepting in defensive midfield or bursting forward on the left, the versatile Castro has impressed and has helped himself to five goals in the process, the pick of the bunch being a beautifully nonchalant chip with the outside of his boot against Velez. He could be a shrewd signing for one of the leagues bigger names.
Emanuel Reynoso // 21 // Talleres // Attacking Midfield: Another of Talleres’ standout young stars this season, their precocious number 10 has had a brilliant season. Reynoso has all the qualities that you would expect in an Argentinian playmaker; a wand-like left foot, good dribbling ability, excellent vision for a defence-splitting pass and the technique to execute it. These qualities were on show in Talleres’ historic win against Boca at the Bombonera where Reynoso was magnificent, scoring once and assisting the other in a 2-1 victory. Reynoso’s performances were made all the more impressive when you consider that just three years ago he was shot in the leg by motorbike thieves, putting his career in jeopardy. Now he is one of the most highly sought-after players in the league, with Boca and River chasing his signature as well as significant interest from Portugal. The only blot on his copy book has been some off-field issues involving being reportedly involved in a firearms incident but hopefully he can let his football continue to do the talking.
Cristian Pavon // 21 // Boca Juniors // Forward: Although Benedetto and Centurion may have got more plaudits, Pavon played a vital role in Boca’s title win with his pace and directness on the right hand side of their front three. Nine goals and nine assists represents a very decent return for a player who is still raw and inconsistent at times but his ability to cut inside and unleash his powerful shot or beat a man on the outside with his acceleration and footwork make him a very dangerous proposition in the final third. Heavily linked to PSG earlier in the year, there will be a number of clubs queuing up for Pavon in the near future.
Sebastian Driussi // 21 // River Plate // Striker: The first name on the teamsheet, Sebastian Driussi had an incredible season for River, finishing as second top scorer with 17 strikes. His achievements are put into starker contrast when you consider he was on the verge of leaving the club on loan this time last year. However, played in his preferred position up front he rewarded Marcelo Gallardo’s faith in him and formed an excellent partnership with Lucas Alario up front as River enjoyed a great second half of the campaign. Driussi was in similarly scintillating form in the Libertadores and his performances over the last month saw him snapped up by Zenit St Petersburg for €15m.
Lautaro Martinez // 19 // Racing // Forward: Highly-rated for some time, this was finally the moment Lautaro Martinez broke through and justified the hype. The return of manager Diego Cocca and an injury to Lisandro Lopez opened the door for Martinez and he took full advantage, scoring nine goals in 23 appearances. Martinez demonstrated his clinical finishing for country as well as club, almost single-handedly dragging Argentina U20s to qualification for the U20 World Cup in South Korea. A silly red card against England threatened to ruin his tournament but he showed his quality with a well-taken brace against Guinea. Top clubs from Europe are already circling for the mobile forward but hopefully we’ll be treated to another season before the inevitable move.