Argentina has a long and illustrious history of producing exciting young players and despite failures at international level that trend is showing no sign of abating. The Primera Division often showcases precocious talent as, due to economic factors, many starlets are thrust into the limelight at an increasingly young age, with their clubs relying on the profits made by shipping them off to Europe and beyond.
There are already a number of highly-touted tyros who have made a name for themselves and will surely not be in the league for much longer; Racing’s Ricardo Centurion almost moved to Anzhi Makhachkala in January, but surgery has put the deal in doubt for the time being, while team-mate Luciano Vietto is also one of the most coveted wonderkids in Argentina. Velez Sarsfield duo Facundo Ferreyra and Gino Peruzzi have big futures ahead of them, and much is expected of playmakers Leandro Paredes at Boca Juniors, Lucas Mugni at Colon, Alan Ruiz at San Lorenzo, Manuel Lanzini at River Plate and Ruben Botta at Tigre – the latter is believed to be on his way to Inter Milan. A move to Europe must also be on the cards for talented Arsenal centre-back Lisandro Lopez, powerful Estudiantes striker Duvan Zapata and Boca Juniors’ Juan Sanchez Mino too.
All of these players, despite their tender age, are already well-established in the domestic league. But who are the latest prospects to have emerged in the last few months during the Torneo Final? Inside Futbol look at the top five talents who have enjoyed a breakthrough campaign.
1) Eder Alvarez Balanta – River Plate – Defender – 20 years old
The young Colombian defender has come from absolutely nowhere to become one of the hottest properties in Argentinian football. A spate of injuries gave Alvarez his opportunity in the first team at River Plate, one which he has well and truly seized. He was sensational on his debut in the high pressure clasico against Racing and, in his third game, scored the winner in a 2-1 victory against Godoy Cruz. In the very next game Alvarez scored again in a 1-1 draw against Quilmes and was one of the best players in the Superclasico. These performances have led to some heady praise with former Argentina coach Daniel Passarella valuing him at €10M, and manager Ramon Diaz even comparing him to the aforementioned legendary defender. As he began the season as a teenager, Alvarez is still only registered as a youth team player – also due to River Plate’s four designated player spots being filled – but is expected to sign professional terms in the summer. It is still early days, but it looks like the young Colombian could follow in the footsteps of countrymen such as Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez in taking his formative steps in Argentinian football before going on to bigger and better things.
2) Rodrigo de Paul – Racing – Midfielder – 18 years old
Racing have a habit of churning out exciting youngsters of late. Centurion and Vietto shot to prominence last season while the likes of Bruno Zuculini and Luis Farina have also become first team regulars. With the injury to Centurion, a spot on the left side of midfield became available and 18-year-old De Paul has made a seamless transition to the senior side. He announced himself with a thunderbolt in only his second start and has been earning rave reviews ever since. He scored another, this time a beautiful curled effort into the top corner, in the 4-1 clasico win against San Lorenzo to underline the hype. As well as a cracking shot, De Paul has shown good vision, neat passing and ball retention and is capable of playing right across the midfield, though he has mainly been used out wide so far in his Racing career.
3) Hector Villalba – San Lorenzo – Forward – 18 years old
What better way to introduce yourself than a lung-busting 80-yard solo effort to opening the scoring in a clasico? After playing a neat one-two just outside his own box, Villalba collected the ball and made a beeline for the Racing goal. Crossing the halfway line he nudged the ball past the lunge of a despairing defender, motoring into the vast expanses between the stricken centre-half and full-back before unleashing an emphatic finish past a helpless Sebastian Saja. Admittedly, Los Cuervos went on to lose the match, but there was certainly some solace in that inspired moment. Villalba then followed it up with another goal – a much scrappier effort – the following week against Arsenal. Short and powerful with searing pace and low centre of gravity, the 18-year-old seems the archetypal Argentinian forward and his recent performances are unlikely to have gone unnoticed. He would be wise to learn from fellow speed merchant Juan Iturbe and not rush a move, gaining more experience from regular first team football.
4) Adrian Fernandez – Independiente – Striker – 20 years old
There is not a whole lot to smile about for relegation-threatened Independiente. With their flawless record at the top under threat, there has been nothing but doom and gloom for Los Diablos Rojos this season. One chink of light though have been the performances of young Paraguayan striker Adrian Fernandez. Brought to Avellaneda in 2011 from Cerro Porteno, he flourished in El Rojo’s youth ranks and the club, knowing they had a gem on their hands, rejected six-figure offers from Sol de America and Chievo. Fernandez finally made his debut this season and then, on his first start, scored in a 1-1 draw with Union. A second start and a second goal in a 3-1 win vs Argentinos was followed up with a well-taken brace against Tigre. Evidently Fernandez has added some much needed cutting edge to a misfiring frontline just at the right time. Although it might not be enough to inspire a Rocky-esque comeback, Fernandez could well benefit from a season in La B in the same way Lucas Ocampos and Paulo Dybala did before their respective big money moves to Monaco and Palermo.
5) Fernando Elizari – Quilmes – Attacking Midfielder – 22 years old
Quilmes, another of the clubs battling relegation, suffered a huge blow midway through the Torneo Inicial when they lost star enganche Miguel Caneo to injury, leaving their survival hopes very much in the balance. However, in rookie Fernando Elizari they have found an apt replacement. The oldest on this list at 22, Elizari was handed a first opportunity by Omar de Felippe and has repaid his manager’s faith with a glut of standout performances. A slight, intelligent, busy little player usually operating just in behind the strikers, Elizari has an uncanny knack for finding space and creating opportunities. Three goals and two assists have helped propel Quilmes up the table and though they are still very much embroiled in the relegation battle, Los Cerveceros have a fighting chance of extending their spell in the top flight thanks in no small part to Elizari.
Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate vs Godoy Cruz
Rodrigo de Paul (Racing vs San Martin)
Hector Villalba (San Lorenzo vs Racing)
Adrian Fernandez (Independiente vs Tigre)
Fernando Elizari (Quilmes vs Lanus)