There is a sense that if Lucas Ocampos is going to finally make good on his enormous potential, it will be this season and although Marseille supporters have had to wait a while, they are now beginning to see glimpses of what all the fuss was about earlier in his career.
Upon first arriving at Marseille, the chance to work under Marcelo Bielsa looked ideal for his development but with El Loco leaving soon after, the transfer became yet another case of Ocampos being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now back at the Stade Vélodrome after loan spells away, the 23-year-old has started the season in tremendous fashion with five goals and two assists from seven appearances.
And it’s perhaps easy to forget that Ocampos is still relatively young given he has been known to followers of Argentinian football since impressing as a teenage centre-forward for Quilmes and Argentina under-15s. This prompted River Plate to swiftly sign him up and the expectation only increased from there.
In 2011, at perhaps the lowest point in River’s illustrious history with the Buenos Aires behemoths relegated to the Nacional B for the first time, the 17-year-old Ocampos seized his opportunity and sparkled as River gained immediate promotion back to the top flight.
It was inevitable then that an offer would come in and River were in no position to turn down the €13 million that the cash-laden, and then Ligue 2 side, Monaco put on the table. However, despite his early promise in France, Monaco’s heavy spending pushed the youngster down the pecking order and since then Ocampos has really been fighting for consistency and fitness.
Marseille didn’t initially see too much to warrant making his loan deal permanent and frustrating spells out at Genoa and AC Milan also failed to push Ocampos on but back Les Olympiens, the forward is beginning to sparkle again. With bags of pace, trickery, strength and an eye for goal, Ocampos has all the tools to reach the levels expected of him all those years ago.
“Lucas Ocampos has impressed many on his return to OM. After a rather passive and disjointed first stint at OM, the Argentine never really imposed in Serie A either on his sabbatical year away from the south of France. First at Genoa, then somewhat bemusingly at AC Milan, the feeling was that Ocampos’ days would be numbered. So when Remy Cabella was let go in the summer given Garcia’s preference to keep Ocampos and therefore impede the Frenchman’s playing time – it’s fair to say that some were incredulous. Now though, we wonder what has led to the 23-year-old enjoying a mini-renaissance. If he has not been prolific, the Quilmes native has for sure been more decisive. Not only in his decision making, but also the impact he is having in OM games. The winger’s movements have always been strong, but it is reading the game where he has most excelled at in 2017-18, and that’s a noticeable change. The goals he has scored are as a result of anticipating the ball well and reacting fastest. Sure there are the fancy acrobatics now and again, but it is in this department where he has improved so much on, thereby erasing a big deficiency in his game. Where to now for the young Argentine? He can quickly make up for lost time over the past two years and finally make a mark at OM. He has the trust of the coach and has become the favoured left-winger thanks to a change of formation which has seen Dimitri Payet move into a central role. The next challenge is consistency. Ocampos will have to prove this new version of himself is not a flash in the pan.”
Aside from the hyperbole of comparisons with Independiente legend Ricardo Bochini or the club’s last great teenage sensation Sergio Agüero, it must be said that during a period of relative unease in Avellaneda, Ezequiel Barco has provided reason for cheer.
Since being handed his debut by Gabriel Milito in August last year the pint-sized playmaker has been dazzling the locals at the Estadio Libertadores de América with his quick feet, love of a nutmeg and incisive passing.
But it could have easily have been so different after a young Barco travelled to Buenos Aires from his home close to Rosario for trials with a number of different clubs. Boca Juniors, River Plate and a host of others opted against taking the youngster with almost all telling him that he was too small but it was his relation with Independiente youth coordinator Jorge Griffa, for whom he had worked with in Rosario, that sealed a move to El Rojo.
Barco’s potential was swiftly identified and in no time Gabriel Milito had him training with the senior squad. Despite being rushed into action the 17-year-old’s impact was immediate and within the last year has gone from hugely promising academy talent to instrumental member of the starting eleven.
There is no doubting that at times Barco lacks composure and end product, certainly in front of goal. He can also be guilty of trying too much, always looking for a killer pass or to beat two or three defenders but this has only been exacerbated by the demands of the team and at times, El Rojo looking to the teenager for inspiration.
Not one to shy away from this responsibility, Barco even took penalty duty last season but was left in tears on the final day when his saved effort denied Independiente a place in the Copa Libertadores. A dip in form and perhaps a sensible approach from manager Ariel Holan to lessen his load should prove hugely beneficial in his continued development.
Barco is yet to carry his club form over to the Argentina youth system and after being given little opportunity in last year’s Sudamericano was controversially withdrawn from the World Cup squad. A tumultuous season out of the way, Barco is now focused back on matters with Independiente and it is little surprise to see the likes of Benfica and Zenit St Petersburg hovering.
Still only eighteen, Barco remains a rough diamond in need of further polishing but there have been few more exciting top flight introductions in recent years and a European destination looks a certainty.
“When a 17-year-old makes their debut for a Grande, it catches your eye. When they go on to become an established first teamer, then you really sit up and take notice. Barco, with his low centre of gravity, ball-tied-to-the-foot dribbling and eye for a pass, is your textbook diminutive playmaker forged from the potreros that Argentina – and specifically Rosario – seems to produce in abundance.
“If last season was his breakthrough, then this year promises to be the confirmation of one of the most exciting young players in Argentina. Though still raw and inconsistent, Ariel Holan’s free-flowing Independiente side should be the perfect place for Barco to flourish. Could he prove to be the most promising young player El Rojo have produced since Kun Agüero? Quite possibly.”