The 2017 Under-20 FIFA World Cup was not kind to Argentina. Despite taking a strong squad, including Santiago Ascacibar, Lautaro Martinez and Tomas Conechny among others, they were beaten 3-0 by England in the opener and dropped out of the tournament at the group stage.
For a team rich in pedigree in this competition—La Albiceleste's six under-20 titles is the most in history—this is hardly acceptable; creasing frowns from the public followed, and hands were wrung over the fortunes of this crop.
It's fair to say there's no Lionel Messi, who top-scored as Argentina claimed glory in 2005, or Sergio Aguero, who did the same two years later as the title was retained, in this generation.
But dig a little deeper into that tournament post-mortem and there are positives to be found. The most obvious, it seems, comes in the form of Juan Foyth, who had played just five senior matches for his club Estudiantes prior to the tournament and is now being linked with a circa-£8 million move to Tottenham Hotspur, per the Daily Mail's Simon Jones.
It's been a frantic 2017 for the centre-back. At the beginning of the year he represented Argentina in the Campeonato Sudamericano, playing in all nine games as they reached the final stage and qualified for the Under-20 World Cup. That was a platform for him to take an occasional spot in Estudiantes' first team, and he's now up to seven starts for Nelson Vivas' outfit.
Doors have opened for him for a reason; he'd stand out as a player and a prospect among 100 colleagues, never mind 21 others, due to his style. Without wanting to place too lazy a comparison on his shoulders—Foyth is Foyth, his own man, after all—he resembles the Argentinian version of John Stones.
The hallmarks of Foyth's game are his actions with the ball at his feet. He is ludicrously confident, looking like someone straight out of Barcelona's La Masia complex, embarking on dribbles out of his defensive line and into midfield seemingly at least five times per game. He can shift the ball from foot to foot to evade pressing and shuttle forward rather impressively.
This does, of course, lead to some problems; like Stones, he occasionally loses out, gets tackled and is forced into emergency action. This happened just a couple of minutes into his senior Estudiantes debut against Patronato, where he was dispossessed near the halfway line and produced a superb block-tackle to avert the danger he'd caused.
Patronato sensed blood and attempted to rattle him, playing gargantuan striker Matias Quiroga up against him and lifting high passes into the forward when one-on-one with him.
Unperturbed, Foyth relished the physical battle, won a surprising number of headers and continued to push on with the ball. His confidence never faltered, and he lifted some wonderful passes over the first line of defence and into midfielders in space to start attacks.
In short, he turned a rather rough opening 15 minutes into a solid performance, kept a clean sheet and helped his side to a 1-0 victory. From there, he has continued to improve and rise in people's estimations.
The Evening Standard's Tom Collomosse reported Tottenham have identified him as a "star of the future." Argentina's sum total of three points in Group A of the Under-20 World Cup might not look much, but from an individual standpoint, Foyth impressed.
Imbued with confidence following a run in Estudiantes' first team prior to the tournament, he was positively waltzing around with the ball at his feet, turning strikers and pushing into space. His longer passing has got better and better, and he can now switch the point of attack with accuracy and speed.
Defensively, he showed good covering depth and recovery speed, that same surprisingly strong aerial game he's displayed in Argentina (at 6'0" and 70 kg, he's no giant), and made a few vital tackles outside his own box to prevent opponents making further inroads into his nation's box.
With precisely 20 games of note under his belt (the sum of his Argentina under-20 and Estudiantes matches played), there are plenty of unwritten chapters in Foyth's book. A playmaker from the back who can dribble past players and create space is fantastic—particularly if, like in this scenario, defensive aptitude is shown, too—but there's a fine line between, say, David Luiz and John Stones, or Emanuel Mammana and Vlad Chiriches.
He'll be some managers' cups of tea, but most certainly not others. Certain fanbases will take to him, others will endure heart palpitations every time he attempts to dribble around a striker with 40 yards of clear space behind him.
What level Foyth reaches is almost impossible to predetermine given the pitfalls associated with his style, but it's clear why coaches like Mauricio Pochettino think they've spotted a rare talent that could be moulded into something great.
All statistics via WhoScored.com