Why Villarreal Wonderkid Nahuel Leiva Is Coveted by Both Spain and Argentina

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Why Villarreal Wonderkid Nahuel Leiva Is Coveted by Both Spain and Argentina
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

They must be putting something in the water in the Argentine city of Rosario. Not content with providing almost a third of the Albiceleste squad that came so close to World Cup glory, the metropolis located in Santa Fe province is already busy providing the next generation of football talent. 

The big question for the nation, however, is whether the latest gem to emerge from the Cradle of the Argentine flag will put on the famous blue-and-white shirt, or whether Nahuel Leiva will succumb to a nasty bout of the Furia Roja

Leiva, 17, charted a similar path to fellow Rosarinos Lionel Messi and Mauro Icardi to Spanish football. His family left Argentina when he was 12, and he quickly found a place as a midfielder in the Villarreal youth ranks. Since then, his rise has been meteoric. 

2014/15 looks set to be a breakout year for the kid. He may have only played six games in the Yellow Submarine's first team, but Thursday saw him net his first goal as he rounded off a 4-0 drubbing of Astana. 

Taking his cue from new arrival, ex-Racing Club striker and compatriot Luciano Vietto, Leiva timed his run perfectly to pick up a fine ball from the new boy, who had already marked his intentions with a Europa League double. The Argentine duo played a neat one-two, and the teenager continued his run into the box and finished coolly to celebrate a landmark moment.

It is an image you will doubtless be seeing much more often in the coming season. 

Leiva plays as a central midfielder with license to break forward at will, which allied to his exceptional passing range makes him a tremendous box-to-box prospect. There is another secret weapon in his armoury: a fearsome shot which has seen the youngster net more than a handful of times in Villarreal's youth divisions. 

Those talents have not gone unnoticed. A profile released by Argentine daily La Nacion earlier this year detailed the Spanish Football Federation's efforts to tempt Leiva into representing the European nation over his native land. According to the article, just two weeks after his full debut in La Liga the midfielder saw a citizenship request fast-tracked, making him eligible for the Roja

The implications are clear: After missing out on Messi as a teenager, Spain are not prepared to give up the latest Rosario wonderkid to land on their shores without a bitter fight. 

But neither will Argentina. Under-20 coach Humberto Grondona is in contact with Leiva, and the Albiceleste will do everything possible to keep the prospect close to his home nation.

The Albiceleste are aware of the threat posed by dual citizenship and players based abroad, part of the reason why Icardi's official international debut was rushed through in a qualifying match against Uruguay to protect the country against probes made by Italy at the end of 2013. 

Who will Leiva choose? It is probably too early to say, and in any case the question is probably detrimental for the young star. His first steps in Villarreal have shown that he is a real talent, and if he can continue on the right path he could be starring at international level for either one of the football powerhouses in a few years. 

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