Argentina are already far from favourites at next month’s under-20 World Cup after scraping through qualification at the Sudamericano but Claudio Úbeda may find his task all the more difficult should Independiente and other clubs prevent their players from travelling to South Korea.
Head coach Claudio Úbeda has already named his 35-man preliminary squad and is currently working with the group in Ezeiza in between their club commitments and aside from a few new faces, the vast majority are those players that finished fourth in Ecuador at the start of the year.
18-year-old playmaker Ezequiel Barco didn’t show his best for the under-20s at the Sudamericano but has returned to his club, Independiente and illustrated why he is considered one of the top young talents in the country.
Despite being the youngest member of the squad, Barco is rapidly becoming one of the most experienced, as the teenager has been been fast-tracked into the Rojo starting eleven and such is his importance that the Avellaneda giants are reluctant to allow him to play for the under-20s.
“We have made a decision: we will not give Barco,” Héctor Maldonado, Independiente’s secretary general told reporters.
Maldonado went on to further explain this decision and suggested Barco was unhappy with his treatment, presumably in Ecuador.
“The player complained of being treated badly by the coaching staff of Úbeda.”
Independiente may yet also deny Argentina the opportunity to call upon winger Gastón Togni, having not made a decision on the 19-year-old but the concern is that this could open the door for other clubs to follow.
While many of the squad haven’t made an impact at senior level yet, Barco is among those who have vital roles at their clubs.
Boca Juniors have already hinted at having no obligations to Uruguay over Juventus-bound midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur and Racing manager Diego Cocca has worryingly for Argentina voiced some concern over losing star player Lautaro Martínez.
“It’s a very long trip so I don’t know,” Cocca said.
“The Argentina coach will understand our needs, as I do his. Today, Lautaro Martínez is a starter so we will see later.”
Clubs are not obliged to give permission for players to participate in the under-20 World Cup but the situation threatens to see a repeat of the Olympic football tournament last August, where a host of first choice players were denied, Argentina suffered a first round exit and Gerardo Martino quit as national team manager.
The likes of Barco and Togni at Independiente, Martinez and Brian Mansilla at Racing and central defender Juan Foyth at Estudiantes are all proving their worth in the Primera this season and if all were held back, Argentina under-20s would be far weaker.
While Claudio Úbeda has remained relaxed this week and said, “We are sure we’re going to have a great performance at the World Cup. We have grown a lot and new players will be incorporated,” his assistant Fernando Batista showed his concern.
“We are going to ask Claudio Tapia to help us in this situation. Playing at a World Cup should be a priority.”
Argentina will be lining up warm-up matches against Vietnam’s under-20s and under-23s ahead of their opening World Cup clash against England on May 20th; there appears a lot to sort out between now and then.