All the players are eligible to play in the Olympic football tournament (born on or after 1 January 1993) and do not have to be playing their club football in Argentina. Debate between several of the Hand of Pod team has narrowed it down and as we get deeper into the countdown, some expert opinion will throw a bit more light on choices.
Feel free to comment as this is not a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination. There are some obvious names, hopefully some not so obvious names and probably double the amount that were mentioned but had to be cut.
Since breaking into the Estudiantes side in 2012, Jonathan Silva has been tipped to be the future of Argentina’s long-standing problem at left back. His spell with Sporting CP has perhaps not seen the 21-year-old kick on as expected, but a loan move back to Argentina with champions Boca Juniors might provide fresh reasons for optimism.
Those reasons will not appear overnight and certainly Silva’s introduction back into Argentine football could barely have gone worse. A red card less than ten minutes into this summer’s first Superclásico friendly led to a narrow defeat at the hands of fierce rivals River Plate and although nothing was riding on the result, there is never a good time to suffer a loss to River.
After lengthy negotiations Silva has arrived at La Bombonera for just six months, enough time to help Los Xeneizes attempt to capture a record-equaling seventh title. After winning a league and cup double in 2015, this grand continental title is the principal aim for Boca in 2016 and Silva has been drafted in to bring a spark to the left side of the team, which Gino Peruzzi brought to the right last year.
In many ways up until the loan to Boca, Silva had been simply following in the footsteps of Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo; part of an excellent Estudiantes defence before departing for Sporting Clube de Portugal. Comparisons probably stop there however, as Silva is far more of a natural full back than the more bullish Rojo, who is equally comfortable in the centre of defence.
Silva’s slight frame won’t be stepping inside to play centrally anytime soon but a solid enough defender with the pace and left foot to provide an attacking outlet and spread the play, the 21-year-old is the archetypal modern full back.
Gerardo Martino called him up to his Argentina squad for the friendly against Croatia last year in the absence of Rojo and will surely be looking at the youngster for his 2016 Olympic squad. This and the Copa Libertadores will provide plenty of opportunities for Silva to shine and remind a lot of people why he was so highly regarded.
Rupert Fryer – Brasil Global Tour/The Guardian/ESPN/Eurosport @Rupert_Fryer“That Silva is even at Boca is a clear indication he is not yet ready to make the next step in his career, but he certainly isn’t the first to make a stumbling start to life in Europe and come home for a breather. There’s clearly some talent there and a return to familiar surroundings will allow him to address a couple of flaws in the youngster’s game. He can look nervous defending one-on-one and never appears comfortable with crosses. That he’s seemingly ahead of Fabra must be a huge confidence boost, however, and if Schelotto keeps the faith it will allow Silva the high-pressure playing time to continue his development. it’s unlikely he’ll stick around, though. His buyout clause is reported to be way more than Boca would spend, though whether he will return to Portugal a better player remains doubtful.”
After only a handful of appearances for Boca Juniors, midfielder Gonzalo Escalante was snapped up by Serie B side Catania, at a time when the Italian club was awash with Argentine players. Like so many young South Americans switching to Europe after little first team exposure, the move appeared premature and the combative Escalante struggled during a season which saw Catania slide into the third tier of Italian football.
Looking as though he may end up back in Argentina or slipping into obscurity, Escalante was provided a route out with a loan switch to La Liga outfit, Eibar for the 2015/16 season. Another relegation battle has ensued but the 22-year-old has proved himself more than capable of competing at the highest level. Los Armeros may be struggling but Escalante has been perhaps their standout performer in the centre of midfield. With Premier League scouts beginning to take note, Eibar swiftly made the initial loan permanent in January and Escalante now has a contract with the Spanish club until 2020.
A busy, aggressive presence in front of the defence, Escalante is one of the top tacklers in La Liga, averaging 3.6 per match, making him a vital piece in Eibar’s ball recovery but his youthful exuberance does lead to a lot of yellow cards. The youngster is tenth in La Liga’s disciplinary statistics with 11 cautions from his 28 league appearances. However, over the course of the season the regularity of these bookings has reduced dramatically as Escalante has learned more of his role and got to grips with the Spanish top flight.
Passing is certainly an area that Escalante can improve but there is more to his game than simply the ugly stuff in front of the back four. Two goals from defensive midfield is not a terrible return and certainly his overall presence in the centre of the pitch is a contributing factor to Eibar’s fairly comfortable midtable position. Having established himself in perhaps the strongest league in world football, Escalante could prove to be an excellent option for Argentina at the Olympics if Matías Kranevitter is preferred for the Copa América.
David Cartlidge – beIN sports/FourFourTwo @davidjaca“Without doubt one of the breakout players of the season. Escalante arrived on loan but was soon snapped up permanently by Eibar for just 1m. His dominant players helped Eibar encounter a stunning first half of the season, and despite a scrape with the referee on more than one occasion, Escalante has been fantastic. If he can cut out the yellow cards, this could be a special defensive midfielder for the future. Escalante can tackle, intercept and cover immense amounts of ground in front of his defence. But that isn’t all he offers. He can support the attack too, offering simple passes and the ability to relieve pressure off the Eibar defensive area. One underrated player to certainly keep an eye on.”