River Plate have hardly done badly since allowing Guido Rodríguez to leave El Monumental but the 23-year-old has certainly done enough since departing to avoid being tagged as a Millonario flop.
Progressing through the River youth ranks, Rodríguez was handed his first team debut by club legend Ramón Díaz back in 2014 but despite his early promise, the powerful midfielder was unable to break more permanently into the plans. While that disappointment can sometimes end a young player’s career, Guido left for Defensa y Justicia on loan.
El Halcón have proved to be a useful destination for Argentina’s grandes to farm out academy products and certainly one of the most successful loanees has been Rodríguez. Six months in Florencio Varela as the side’s first choice number five, more than demonstrated that Rodríguez was ready for top flight action. A physical ball winner, decent passer and more than willing runner from deep, El Chacal swiftly appeared to outgrow Defensa y Justicia, helping the club to qualify for international competition for the first time.
There still wasn’t room in Marcelo Gallardo’s plans but Liga MX club Tijuana had seen enough to bring the midfielder north and despite his relative inexperience, Rodríguez proved an immediate hit. Los Xolos weren’t able to lift a title in his time at the Estadio Caliente but in both the Apertura and Clausura, Tijuana finished top before failing in the knockout stages.
Establishing himself as one of the top players in México, Rodríguez looked set for Europe and was handed a call-up to the Argentina squad so for Liga MX giants Club América to swoop in a $7 million deal was something of a coup.
That Liga MX title may yet come for Rodríguez with Las Aguilas and at 23 there is still plenty of time to make the switch to Europe.
“A strong and physical holding midfielder, Guido Rodriguez quickly established himself as the rival to Guido Pizarro as the best player in the position in Mexico. Rodriguez is solid in possession, strong at tackling, has good positional awareness and could replicate Pizarro and move to Europe in the not too distant future.
The real issue with Rodriguez and how far he can go is discipline. In 49 games in Mexico’s first division, Rodriguez has received 21 yellow cards and four reds, two of which have come in ten matches this season for Club América.”
Ahead of what promised to be a tightly contested Superliga title battle, perhaps the crucial moment came before a ball had even been kicked. River Plate lost strike duo Lucas Alario and Sebastián Driussi to European football while rivals Boca Juniors secured Darío Benedetto and 21-year-old Cristian Pavón to new deals and haven’t looked back since.
While Benedetto’s prolific strike rate has rightly earned him his plaudits, the centre forward has admitted that “half my goals I owe to Pavón.” The pair have been utterly sensational in the post-Tevez Boca era, blasting Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side to the 2016-17 Primera season and starting their defence in irresistible fashion.
Pavón’s lightening pace provides Boca with a deadly counter-attacking weapon and his three goals and five assists already this term prove that his nine goals and nine assists from last season was no flash in the pan. The 21-year-old can still at times be guilty of holding the ball too long or making the wrong choice but is still learning his trade and doing so under the intense spotlight of La Bombonera.
The talent has always been evident. It is why Boca moved so swiftly to incorporate Pavón into their youth system from his home town club, Talleres and was clear when the youngster was sent out on loan to Colón. However, after biding his time for a chance in the Boca first team, the forward has seized his opportunity and now progressed almost beyond the Superliga.
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli certainly seems to think so and handed Pavón his international debut recently. The youngster repaid the faith with two assists in two matches and aside from being linked with Europe’s elite has emerged as an outsider for the Albiceleste squad in Russia.
“Cristian Pavón often plays with the air of a man who’s had horse blinkers put on his head and been told to run in only one direction, but there’s no denying it’s been a supremely effective plan for Boca Juniors during 2017. His partnership with Darío Benedetto helped fire Boca to another league title, and earned him a deserved national team call-up. Once there, he showed enough in friendlies against Russia and Nigeria to suggest he might fight his way into Jorge Sampaoli’s squad for the World Cup – but Benedetto’s season-ending injury recently might mean he has to become a little more rounded if Boca are to benefit from his development.”