So close to the end of our countdown of the best young players in Argentina, we now reach number two. In case you missed it here is a recap so far:
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.
For regular watchers of Argentine football the rise of Matías Kranevitter has come as no surprise but between Diego Simeone moving swiftly to bring the 22-year-old to Atlético Madrid after the Club World Cup and Gerardo Martino handing him his international debut last year, a larger audience is now wise to Javier Mascherano’s natural heir in defensive midfield.
The role of the number five in Argentine football is iconic but varied and somewhere between the tough tackling of Mascherano and the dynamic artistry of Fernando Redondo lies Matías Kranevitter. A buzzing presence in front of the defence, El Tucu is quick and strong into the tackle without being considered overly physical and his astute positioning and passing make him effective in recycling the ball and initiating attacks.
River Plate scouts noticed these talents early when watching a 14-year-old Kranevitter playing for his local side, San Martín de Tucumán and having begun work as a golf caddy at the age of twelve to help his family, the opportunity to move to Buenos Aires was too good.
His understanding and maturity in the role immediately distinguished Kranevitter from the vast majority of youth players and in 2012 he anchored the under-20 side to the Copa Libertadores.
Under Ramón Díaz, Kranevitter gradually began pushing through to the first team without ever being considered a starter and was more of an important squad player during the triumphant Torneo Final.
However, Marcelo Gallardo’s arrival saw Kranevitter seize his chance and become a key fixture in the starting eleven. At the start of the Torneo Transición, River and Kranevitter were irresistible but a metatarsal injury hampered the youngster’s campaign and seriously dented River’s hopes of balancing a title challenge with the Copa Sudamericana.
The Primera title slipped through their fingers but Kranevitter returned to help lift the Sudamericana and followed this with a historic Copa Libertadores triumph the following year. Gallardo struggled initially to get to grips with the tournament but the double five of Kranevitter and Ponzio proved instrumental in picking up momentum and eventually toppling Tigres for the most sought after trophy in the continent.
Atlético Madrid moved swiftly to secure the signature of Kranevitter in advance of his January switch and after losing to Barcelona in the Club World Cup, the 22-year-old departed for Spain.
Gerardo Martino appears to have already turned to Kranevitter in the event of injury or suspension to his usual central midfield and although the youngster is only intermittingly being used by Diego Simeone at Atleti, his place in the Argentina squad appears firm.
El Tucu may need to wait a little longer to replace Mascherano but the future of La Albiceleste’s midfield is knocking on the door.
Sam Kelly – ESPN, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard @HEGS_com “Matías Kranevitter, surely, is Javier Mascherano’s long-term heir in the No. 5 role for Argentina – albeit he’s a more forward-looking player than Mascherano. Sharp in the tackle and with good positional sense, Kranevitter comes into his own when his team are enjoying spells of possession, knitting together the passing in midfield and always on the lookout for an incisive ball forwards. He’ll be one to watch in the next few years, and Argentina fans will be hoping he gets the playing time to develop well – whether that’s at Atlético de Madrid or out on loan elsewhere.”
Ed Malyon – Spanish and European correspondent for @MirrorFootball @eaamalyon “Matias Kranevitter is one of those who has had a lot of success in his youth, bursting into the first-team picture and winning a Copa Libertadores. However, his first foray into European football has been a little tougher. With Atletico needing to keep up a relentless pace to compete with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, there is no room for passengers and the decision has been made that Kranevitter may benefit from some time away from the Vicente Calderón.
“How he deals with these loan spells, and how he performs, will be huge for his career. Succeed and he will return to the Spanish capital and be playing regular football for a Champions League contender and one of the world’s finest coaches. Fail to perform and he is likely to never see the field again under Diego Simeone. Stakes are high at the top, and Kranevitter has to show he belongs there.”
River and Uruguay icon Enzo Francescoli “Matias is a player with a level of game that isn’t easy to find. He holds the team together, and plays well positionally. He’s always thinking of getting back the ball, even when River has the ball! He has characteristics of Mascherano, especially when it comes to pressing. Matias will be the successor to Mascherano.”