The Barcelona of Argentina? Racing Club and a Golden Generation of Youngsters
As well as domestic or continental triumphs, clubs in South America are rightly proud of the talents which pass through their systems on the way to global fame. And in Argentina right now, few teams have as high hopes for the future as Racing Club of Avellaneda.
This optimism is based on what is perhaps the best generation of youth talent currently playing in the Primera Division. No less than five players under the age of 24 are currently wowing the Cilindro masses, and lucrative European moves surely will not be too long in coming.
Luciano Vietto, Ricardo Centurion, Luis Farina, Rodrigo De Paul and Bruno Zuculini are the names to watch out for. With the exception of Zuculini, a feisty defensive midfielder who has developed a talent for bursting into the box, all of the above are attacking stars who seem to hold no fear on the pitch.
For many, Vietto is the jewel in the crown. The 19-year-old native of Cordoba province made his debut under the tutelage of Diego Simeone back in 2011, aged just 17. It was under current coach Luis Zubeldia that the mobile centre forward, supremely talented on the ball and able to net with both feet, from inside and outside the box, made his impact as sole striker in a European-inspired 4-2-3-1 formation.
Eight goals in the 2013 Final championship made him Racing's top scorer and pushed the shy, retiring teenager into the headlines as one to watch.
Shy and retiring are not the first adjectives that come to mind when observing his teammate Centurion. The lanky winger immediately brings to mind a young Angel Di Maria, both in his physical semblance and his approach to the game.
Centurion holds no fear when going forward, always willing to make the Primera's bully boys look foolish with an outrageous dribble. This provoked the ire of none other than Boca supremo Carlos Bianchi; in a recent clash, the legendary coach was recorded inciting his men to "hit him hard, he's making us look stupid!" His words had little effect though, as a Racing side inspired by the skills of Centurion and Vietto went on to record a comfortable 2-0 victory.
What the pair mentioned above have in common, along with Farina and De Paul, is a natural joy and freedom on the pitch rarely seen in domestic Argentine football. All four of them love to show their trickery, throwing backheels, nutmegs, one-twos and flicks across the pitch.
Many opponents who have found themselves on the receiving end, like Bianchi, have accused the kids of 'showing off' or 'lacking respect', as if playing to the more rustic players' rules of hard kicks and long balls somehow constitutes a more worthy style of play. But Centurion himself, talking to Radio Cooperative (via PlayFutbol) summed up their attitude better than any observer:
If they say we show off, fine, let them take a look at the videos and see that we play like this from the first minute... Everyone already knows what my game is... this is all a game, I play like that and I have fun.
Just how long the quartet—and let's not leave Zuculini out of the equation, as the teenager already threatens to outshine older brother Franco, himself a former young favourite with Racing—will continue having fun in Avellaneda is debatable.
The Daily Mail (as reported by TribalFootball) links Manchester City with a £2.5m bid for Zuculini, which even with a reported one-year loan back to Racing included would be a bargain deal for the Sky Blues. Vietto, according to Argentine sports daily Ole, is wanted by both Borussia Dortmund and old boss Simeone in Atletico, although he has pledged his future to Racing by signing a bumper new contract.
Luis Farina, the oldest of the group at 22, has (via La Nacion) been sold to Benfica for $3m, and will sign a contract in the next few days. That just leaves Centurion; having come within inches of signing for Anzhi in January before an ankle problem scuppered negotiations, the pugnacious winger has previously been linked with the likes of AC Milan (Goal) and Inter (Tuttosport), but having only recently returned to first team action is likely to stay at least six months longer before venturing across the Atlantic.
Fans of Argentine football are used to seeing the best players emigrate, and the priority for Racing now is to take advantage of their stable of talents while they still can. A fifth place finish in the 2012 Inicial and sixth in the Final (the local league is split into two halves) was an encouraging return for an inexperienced team and coach still finding their feet as a unit.
With a full year under their belts, and the admiration of an entire country, Argentina's most fearsome group of youths are ready to take the coming season by storm.
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