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.
Perhaps the breakthrough star of the 2015 Argentine Primera was Rosario Central’s talented playmaker Franco Cervi. The 21-year-old seamlessly stepped up to the first team in spite of his tender age and in addition to helping Central to a surprising title challenge ended up signing for Portuguese giants, Benfica.
Rosario’s reputation as a hotbed for Argentine footballing talent is well justified after producing none other than Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Mauro Icardi and Ezequiel Garay to name a few. Much like Barcelona’s five-time world player of the year, Franco Cervi is a pint-sized attacker but unlike Argentina’s captain has forced his way up through his home club’s youth system into the first team before making his step-up to Europe.
Cervi was born just north of Rosario in the town of San Lorenzo but joined the academy of Central at the age of six and has since then represented the club at every level. However, it was with the reserves under the leadership of Hugo Galloni in 2013 that ‘Chucky’ really made a name for himself within the club. Five goals in fifteen reserve team appearances led to Miguel Angel Russo giving the 20-year-old his first team debut at the end of the 2014 Torneo Transicion and although Cervi enjoyed only a handful of outings, the youngster impressed, standing out even in defeat to champions Racing.
When club legend Eduardo Coudet took over as manager at the start of 2015 he too had obviously taken note and immediately Cervi was named as one of his key starting eleven. This faith was immediately repaid in the first match of the season when the youngster lobbed Racing goalkeeper, Sabastian Saja from 30 yards to give Central a shock away victory over the defending champions.
Cervi maintained this level of performance and in tandem with centre-forward Marco Ruben provided a constant goal threat as Central came close to lifting a first trophy since 1987. Five goals and four assists during 2015 was a decent return but only goes a little way in highlighting his importance to the side.
Thanks to the likes of Messi and Maradona, Cervi is perhaps the archetypal Argentine footballer: tiny in stature, but with lightening acceleration and the ability to skip past defenders given their low centre of gravity.This comparison serves only to highlight Cervi’s size in contrast with his natural abilities, as few players can even aspire to the level of the two Argentine greats mentioned let alone be justifiably compared.
That aside, Cervi is a supremely talented attacker able to operate across a 4-3-3, comfortable out wide or behind a central striker ‘in the hole’. Central’s failure in the Copa Libertadores denied Chucky a fairytale end to his time in Rosario but Benfica will present a new challenge and a huge opportunity to impress.
Tom Robinson – Outside of the boot/Just Football @tomrobbo89“An impish playmaker replete with mesmerizing dribbling ability and a dazzling array of flicks and tricks, it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with Cervi. After an excellent start to 2015, Chucky did suffer a bit of a dip in form – perhaps inevitable after agreeing terms with Benfica – but has roared back to his best for Central alongside fellow wonderkid Gio Lo Celso. Needs to bulk up but Portugal should be a good introduction to European football.”
Learning your trade alongside one of Argentina’s best midfielders in recent memory in Juan Sebastián Verón can only have a positive impact on a young players’ career. Talented midfielder Joaquín Correa has gone a step further in emulating Brujita by making his initial step into European football with Serie A side, Sampdoria and after an indifferent start is beginning to show signs of progression.
Things might have turned out very differently for Correa had home sickness not cut short his spell with River Plate aged eleven but after moving back to Tucumán it wasn’t long before his talent was spotted again and this time Estudiantes were the beneficiaries.
Life in La Plata obviously suited the young Correa and after moving through the youth ranks he was named the best academy product in 2011. One year on and the 17-year-old made his senior debut, replacing Duván Zapata against Banfield and it wasn’t long before La Pincha were fending off interest from abroad.
A tall, rangy midfielder with a decent burst of pace Correa is able to play centrally as an advanced playmaker or out on the left where, for Estudiantes, he often drove inside onto his right foot. With a good passing range and a jackhammer of a shot (see his strike against Peñarol for an example of this), El Tucu is a real threat in the final third.
With over 50 appearances for El Pincha by the time Correa was barely twenty, it was clear his future lay elsewhere and amid intense interest it was Sampdoria that shelled out $10 million for his signature. The financial struggles at the club made it impossible for president Verón to turn down but knowing the club and manager Sinisa Mihajlovic well from his own playing days, the transfer was a good fit for all involved.
The first season in Italy has proved a testing one for Correa and after struggling initially with injury niggles and form, the 21-year-old gradually began to show some of his promise. Still a player on the fringes for the Blucerchiati, Correa scored three times but will be looking to push on next year. This summer could be provide another opportunity as El Tucu finds himself on Gerardo Martino’s Olympic shortlist.
Jack Rathborn – Mirror Football/ESPN FC/Football Radar @JackRathborn“Correa has been inconsistent for Sampdoria, which is frustrating, but understandable. He’s got an excellent first touch and lightning-fast feet which allow him to cope with the usually sound marking in Serie A, opening up space for La Samp, but all too often failing to deliver that final ball. It’s been common to see him suddenly open up opposition and lead a counter, but then deliver a sloppy pass which allows the opposition to recover. Naturally he favours a side that sets up to counter, but he has a keen eye for goal from distance, and he’ll usually hit the target from outside the box. Overall an enjoyable player to watch since coming to Italy, but plenty to work on in the final third to go beyond the level of Sampdoria.”
Conor Clancy – Forza Italian Football/GazzettaWorld @concalcio“He started the season reasonably well at Samp but then a horrific open goal miss against Inter in October seemed to shatter his confidence. He ended up being dragged off in that game and didn’t start another game in Serie A until January. Correa is extremely exciting in possession and with the ball at his feet he looks as though he can cause anybody problems and his ability to beat a player is extraordinary. However, consistency is an issue with him, though having not started every week and being just 21 it’s understandable. Correa has big potential. Next season is likely to be a defining one for him at Samp and Montella might just be the man to get the best out of him.”