10 Young Argentina Players Poised to Break Out in 2014/15
There are few nations that produce as much raw football talent as Argentina. The Albiceleste's run to the final of the World Cup this year proved that the South Americans have not lost any of the quality that puts them among the sport's elite, and a whole new generation is already waiting to take over from 2014's stellar class.
But who are the players ready to make an impact for the coming season? Some are preparing to tackle European football after shining as teenagers back home, while others still represent their boyhood clubs and dream of Primera Division success.
The following 10 young stars meet a handful of prerequisites. Those who make the list must be 24 or younger and are either playing in Argentina or set to make their first appearances overseas. This distinguished set of stars could well be household names by May next year.
10. Geronimo Rulli
Argentine football has always taken great pride in its goalkeepers. And while Geronimo Rulli is still learning his trade between the posts, there is every sign that the new Real Sociedad player can become a fixture in European and international football for years to come.
Rulli, 22, came to the attention of the Basque side thanks to three excellent seasons with Estudiantes. Just 34 goals conceded in 53 games represent a fantastic start for the young 'keeper, who was loaned out to La Liga (club's official website) during the current transfer window.
The youngster is blessed with outstanding athleticism and is among the best shot stoppers in Argentine football, and if he receives regular time with Real Sociedad, his signing could prove to be one of the shrewdest moves of the window.
9. Juan Martin Lucero
While it was a traumatic year for all concerned at River Plate, the club's historic season in the Nacional B two years ago had an unexpected positive side effect. With such a prestigious institution in the second tier, followed by Independiente in the last campaign, the players operating one level down suddenly enjoyed a media exposure that would have been unthinkable in past eras.
New Independiente signing Juan Martin Lucero, 22, is one of the young stars who has taken full advantage. The dynamic forward's 24 goals for Defensa y Justicia in the 2013/14 Nacional B propelled the side to promotion and won Lucero a dream move to the Rojo in Avellaneda.
Lucero struck up an instant rapport with fellow new arrival Claudio Riano, scoring on his league debut as the Rojo destroyed Rafaela 3-0. With the goalscoring instinct of a centre-forward and the intelligence to play outside the area, the youngster is a complete attacking threat who should see his stock rise very highly indeed.
8. Guido Carrillo
When talking about forward players in Argentina, it is the diminutive, pacey stars who first come to mind. But there is far more to attacking play in the nation than the likes of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and other pocket-sized assassins; more physical prospects like Estudiantes' Guido Carrillo are also coming to the forefront.
With 13 goals in 37 Primera Division matches over the course of 2013/14, the 23-year-old Magdalena native was one of the local game's top scorers in his first full year as a starter. And even though the Pincha lost 2-1 in their Transicion debut against Arsenal, another goal for Carrillo raised hopes of another excellent campaign.
Standing at an imposing 6'2", the striker's power and instincts in the box instantly bring to mind one Martin Palermo, who also graduated from the Estudiantes academy. But Carrillo is a much more complete footballer than El Titan, playing long stretches of the game outside the box and generally making defenders' lives a nightmare.
7. Lucas Romero
Long held up as the example of a model administration within the Primera Division, Velez Sarsfield keep financial stability by holding a tough line on transfers. A few players can enter, but the majority of the squad must come from within the Fortin's youth academy. As well as ensuring the club have enjoyed a continuous run of success, the policy also means young stars like Lucas Romero gain instant access to first-team action.
The 20-year-old plays as a traditional Argentine "number five," the holding midfielder who shields the defence as his companions in the middle push further up. But Romero is no water carrier; his range of passing and vision gives him a quality and maturity beyond his years.
6. Lucas Boye
The River Plate academy at times appears to be a merciless production line, effortlessly churning out dozens of top-class attacking players. Hernan Crespo; Ariel Ortega; Pablo Aimar; Javier Saviola; Andres D'Alessandro—the list can go on and on. For the 2014 season, 18-year-old striker Lucas Boye is determined to add his name to that hall of fame.
Boye, an athletic, powerful centre-forward who is equipped with a fearsome shot, is just one of an encouraging generation of strikers starting their careers with the Millonario. Diego Simeone's son Giovanni and Federico Andrada have also been given chances in the first team, albeit without managing to hold down a regular place.
With Fernando Cavenaghi out for the entire Transicion championship, the trio have a great opportunity to stake a claim for his place. Boye, who has started two River games so far this season, is perhaps better placed than anyone to follow in the footsteps of those famous names above.
5. Francisco Pizzini
Nicknamed the Pajaro Loco (Crazy Bird), Francisco Pizzini is a bundle of energy on the pitch. The Independiente forward never stops moving, with the ball or without, unsettling defenders before honing in on the net. With the Rojo back in the top flight for the 2014 Transicion, Pizzini already looks set to make a big impact.
The 20-year-old, whose first-ever goal came during a tense promotion play-off victory over Huracan at the end of the 2013/14 season, has so far displayed his excellent form. Belgrano fell in the Copa Argentina to a fantastic strike from Pizzini, and his goalscoring run continued with another beauty that took down Rafaela in the opening Transicion clash.
The Rojo have assembled an intriguing mix of old hands and young hopefuls for their first campaign back in Primera, and Pizzini has a wonderful opportunity to announce himself to the football world.
4. Emanuel Mammana
What do Javier Mascherano and new River starlet Emanuel Mammana have in common? Besides their shared football origins in the famed Millonario academy, both players had an unorthodox entry to the professional game. Their full debuts came, not with River, but wearing the colours of the senior national team.
Central defender Mammana formed part of the sparring squad that accompanied Argentina to the Brazil World Cup, and he received a handful of minutes during the warm-up friendly against Slovenia. Tall, strong in the air and also blessed with a great football brain, the debut was another advance for the player who has anchored the under-20 defence.
At 18, the centre-back is set to break into the River Plate ranks this season, bolstering the defence of the current Primera Division holders as their Copa Sudamericana campaign means rotation will be crucial to their chances.
3. Gonzalo Veron
As well as celebrating a league title and their first-ever Copa Libertadores crown in the last 12 months, San Lorenzo have also enjoyed a golden generation of talent which has emerged to fight for first-team places in Bajo Flores. Angel Correa, Hector Villalba and Gonzalo Veron, three brilliantly talented attackers, have caused furore in Argentine football since bursting onto the scene.
While Correa and Villalba went on to establish themselves as regular members of the starting line-up, Veron's progress was slowed by a ligament rupture that kept him out of contention for seven months during 2013. Now back to full fitness, the 24-year-old is keen to make up for lost time.
The player dubbed the "Caniggia of the lower leagues" during his time as a teenager at Buenos Aires minnows Sportivo Italiano is blessed with incredible pace and can play anywhere in attack or out wide. If Veron can stay free of injury and San Lorenzo keep up their brilliant recent record, the player could be the star of the Primera Division this season.
2. Tiago Casasola
New Fulham man Tiago Casasola is as much of an unknown quantity in Argentina as he is for his new fans in Craven Cottage. The central defender, already a great promise at the back, moved across the Atlantic Ocean (Daily Mail) without playing a single game for the Boca Juniors first team.
The 18-year-old, however, has impressed greatly in the youth divisions of the Argentine national team, and the decision by Albiceleste coach Alejandro Sabella to take Casasola to the World Cup as sparring partner to Lionel Messi greatly enhanced his reputation. He may not see too much first-team action with Fulham, but the young defender is definitely one to watch.
1. Bruno Zuculini
Former Racing Club midfielder Bruno Zuculini was just one of a host of Academia players to seek new pastures in the current transfer window. The brother of Franco, who made his first-team debut at just 17, moved from Avellaneda to England to represent Manchester City.
It remains to be seen whether the 21-year-old will stay at the Etihad Stadium or if coach Manuel Pellegrini opts to send him for a spell on loan in order to gain European experience. Wherever Zucu plays this year, he has the potential to make a big splash.
A tough-tackling midfielder with pace and strength to spare, Zuculini has another great asset in his locker. After starting as more of an anchor man, he soon learned the value of surging forward and arriving late in the opposition area, leading to a decent goal return with Racing before the Citizens came calling.