River Plate midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano must be doing something right. A host of Europe's top clubs are reportedly monitoring the classy young player, with the goal of snapping him up in the current transfer window.
Cirigliano has played a key role over the past two seasons in the Buenos Aires club's resurrection from fallen second-division giants to challengers for the Primera title, but he appears to have fallen out of favor with manager Ramon Diaz and has been sidelined for recent matches, making a move away look highly likely. Whether the issues with Diaz are tactical or personal, there is no doubting an opportunity exists for one lucky club to pick up a high-quality player at a bargain price.
Argentina's most popular sports daily, Ole, has noted the interest (article in Spanish) of Fiorentina and Barcelona B, with Fiorentina rumored to be eyeing off Cirigliano as a potential replacement for Chilean midfielder David Pizarro, who may be ending his loan spell at the club. River Plate president Daniel Passarella was once a Fiorentina player, so his relationship with the club may oil the wheels of any negotiations there.
Why all the fuss? Because Cirigliano is the type of player you could build your midfield around for a decade.
His most natural role is that of a traditional Argentine "cinco," or No.5, which means when his side has possession he sits just in front of the line of defenders and dictates play through his passing game from deep. When the team loses the ball, he acts as a shield for the defense.
Another River Plate product, Javier Mascherano, played in that position at club level before he was converted into a defender at Barcelona, but he remains Argentina's quintessential example of the No. 5 at the moment, and he continues to perform the role for the national team.
Others who do a similar job are Fernando Gago of Velez, Claudio Yacob of West Bromwich Albion and Ever Banega of Valencia. These players vary slightly in the way they carry out their duties within their respective teams, but essentially they are all cut from the same cloth.
As a product of the prestigious River academy, Cirigliano was bred to be extremely comfortable on the ball. He is so comfortable with it, in fact, that he probably isn't ashamed to hold hands with it in front of his buddies, cry in its presence or use the toilet while it is taking a shower. That kind of comfortable.
The kid they call "Chili" is also blessed with a gorgeous passing ability. He is the type of ball-recycler who seems to be doing a very simple job but manages to ensure his teammates are always receiving the ball with time and space to spare. The majority of his passes will be short and deadly accurate, but when he does try something a little more speculative, he also has the ability to slice open a defense.
In a defensive capacity, at just over five foot seven Cirigliano lacks the physicality to intimidate opponents. Nor is he as aggressive as, say, Mascherano.
He is tactically adept, however, and does a fine job of cutting out passes and corralling attackers away from danger areas. He is the type of "defensive" midfielder, however, who usually needs a little help from his friends.
The player's consistency may also be a concern for a big European club looking to invest in him. When he is on song, he is a joy to watch, but when things are not going his way he can put in three or four bad performances on the trot where his passes are suddenly going astray and he is no longer running the midfield with any authority. But drop him into a well-organized side with plenty of talented players surrounding him and such lapses may become a thing of the past.
That Cirigliano is sublimely skillful is undeniable, and if any doubts exist over his ability to fully realize his talents in the European fray, the risk seems a minimal one for a club to take considering the fees that are being mentioned.
Whether he makes the move to Italy, England, Spain or some other locale, the career trajectory of this pint-sized maestro from Buenos Aires will be fascinating to watch.