Argentina's 10 Best Home-Based Talents Bound for Europe
Argentina has a reputation as a footballing giant for a good reason. With the possible exception of Brazil, no other country exports so many wonderful talents across the world, giving leagues from Spain to Sweden and Italy to Israel a South American flavour.
As the Torneo Final reaches its closing stages, many of the latest generation of youngsters are already being watched attentively by European scouts, hopeful of finding the next Messi or Kun Aguero. But who are the top young players currently playing in the Primera Division?
The following 10 kids are all turning heads in their local clubs, and they could be making a move across the Atlantic in the not-too-distant future.
The Argentine league system of calculating relegation over a three-year average points total means that newly promoted sides are automatically disadvantaged. For teams entering from the Nacional B, that first year in the top flight is often little more than holding on for dear life.
For that reason, Gimnasia's ascent to joint-top in the Final tournament less than 12 months after promotion is all the more impressive; and a lot of that is owed to Franco Mussis. At 22-years-old, the academy graduate has become the engine of the La Plata club, and he will be sorely missed.
The combative midfielder who loves to get forward is dreaming of bowing out of the Lobo with their first-ever professional title: in June, as confirmed by TN, the youngster will be moving to European football (in Spanish) with Danish side FC Copenhagen.
The Argentine public are used to seeing the emergence of the latest wonderkid. But even in a nation where watching teenage prodigies boss the field is nothing out of the ordinary, the progress of Newell's striker Ezequiel Ponce has been astonishing.
Having made his Lepra debut at the tender age of 16, Ponce has carved out a regular place in the Rosario club's first team, less than a year later. The teenager has the pace and intelligence to stretch opponents with runs out wide, and the power to turn play back inside and make a beeline to goal.
Newell's will not want to let go of their brightest young star any time soon, which could mean Ponce staying put for a few more years. In the meantime, he is in excellent company: Who better to learn from than World Cup and European Championship winner David Trezeguet, who at 36 is 19 years the senior of his strike partner.
The Argentine Primera Division sometimes feels like a production line for diminutive, rapid and immensely talented youngsters. But few currently active in the top flight are as highly regarded as San Lorenzo's teenage prospect Angel Correa.
Despite having turned only 19 in March, the forward's direct running and wicked dribbling skills have turned him into a key player for the current Argentine champions. And his exploits in the Cuervo colours have brought his name to the attention of some European giants.
According to Mundo Deportivo, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone would be prepared to pay out (in Spanish) to bring his compatriot to the Spanish capital. But he would have competition; none other than city rivals Real Madrid, whose winger Angel Di Maria shares his Rosario birthplace with Correa, are also attentive to the young star's development.
Unsurprisingly in the land known primarily as the home of stars like Maradona, Batistuta, Sivori, Ortega and Messi, it is the attackers who dominate the headlines and local transfer buzz in Argentina. Estudiantes goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, however, has made many observers stand up and take notice.
The incredibly agile youngster, 21, shows a great shot-stopping talent, but he also has the bravery and authority to boss team-mates such as the evergreen veteran Juan Sebastian Veron. His form has turned Estudiantes into the second-meanest defence of the Final, with eight goals conceded in 15 games, and also title challengers.
Nor has his form gone unnoticed abroad. According to Infobae, Barcelona are following the goalkeeper's development (in Spanish) very closely as a long-term replacement for Victor Valdes.
In the world of Argentine football, Velez Sarsfield enjoy the reputation of being one of the nation's most stable, consistent institutions. Part of this strength comes from eschewing frantic transfer activity, in favour of trusting talented youngsters such as midfielder Lucas Romero.
Adept in the middle of the field and with the ability to create chances further up, Romero at the age of 20 has become an integral part of the Velez team fighting for the Copa Libertadores title this year.
The youngster was watched by Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella earlier in the season (Telam), and while the World Cup may have come too early it would be no surprise to see him push into the Seleccion in the immediate future.
In the Boca dressing room and boardroom, it is almost a yearly ritual to speak of Juan Roman Riquelme's future. The veteran playmaking genius is still uncertain if he will be lining up for the Xeneize come the 2014 Inicial season, but the club might just have his successor waiting in the wings.
That is, if a European club does not swoop in first for Luciano Acosta.
The 19-year-old Buenos Aires native made his debut this year for Boca, and as well as excelling in the No. 10 role can also play further up the field as a second striker. His pace and close control are outstanding strengths, and the youngster is already winning rave reviews despite an indifferent campaign for the club.
Juan Sanchez Mino
Even at the tender age of 24, the biggest surprise about Juan Sanchez Mino is that the naturally left-footed star is still plying his trade at Boca Juniors. The mobile midfielder certainly has the potential to make a big name for himself in European football.
The youngster began his career as a full-back, but gradually found himself pushed further up the pitch and is more likely to be seen either in the middle or on the left of the midfield as he struts across the Bombonera.
His pace and determination make him a feisty competitor, while he is also blessed with a fierce shot that has seen him record 10 goals for the Argentine giants.
For Racing Club midfielder Bruno Zuculini, 2014 has not been a happy year. But a dip in form for both player and club should not stop the younger brother of Franco in an otherwise rapid rise to the top of Argentine domestic football.
The 21-year-old, who has already racked up more than 90 appearances and can be utilised both as a holding player and further up the field, has his transfer future arranged. In June 2014, as confirmed by president Victor Blanco to El Dia (via Teamtalk), Zuculini will become a Manchester City player.
Rodrigo De Paul
In what has been a dreadful 12 months for Avellaneda giants Racing Club, there has at least been one bright spot. Nineteen-year-old playmaker Rodrigo De Paul has bravely taken on the No. 10 shirt, turning in some impressive, if at times inconsistent, performances in an underachieving institution.
The teenager's explosive pace and penetration were summed up by an individual winner against Argentinos, the kind of form that has brought him to the attention of Udinese.
The Italian club's interest is confirmed, as revealed by the player himself to Ole; although they may need to up their game to meet Racing's $5 million valuation of the young talent.
River Plate playmaker Manuel Lanzini has long been one of the biggest promises from the club's famous academy. With the Millonarios on a roll and leading the Primera Division alongside Gimnasia, however, interest in the young No. 10 is bound to be fierce in the coming window.
Lanzini returned from a loan spell at Fluminense to help River consolidate their return to the top flight in 2012, and since then has become an integral part of the team. His goal in the Bombonera to steer the club towards a first away victory over Boca Juniors in the famous Superclasico for 10 years will not be soon forgotten.