Rosario’s reputation as a hotbed for Argentine footballing talent is well justified after producing the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Mauro Icardi and Ezequiel Garay. Much like Barcelona’s five-time Balon d’Or winner, Franco Cervi is a pint-sized attacker but unlike Argentina’s captain forced his way up through his home club’s youth system before making his mark in Europe.
While Messi stands firmly in the red and black half of the city, Cervi came through the ranks in the yellow and blue of Rosario Central and after dazzling with his quick dribbling and vast array of flicks and tricks, it wasn’t long before Portuguese giants Benfica swooped, just as they had years earlier for Angel Di María.
Yet to truly cement his place in the starting eleven at the Estádio da Luz, Benfica’s supporters have only seen glimpses of Cervi’s talent but in spite of this, the 23-year-old became the first Benfica player to score in all Portuguese competitions in the same season last year – Supertaça, Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal, Taça da Liga and additionally, the Champions League.
Far from a goal scorer, Cervi is more at home darting into the channels behind the full back and teasing opposition defenders. The archetypal Argentine footballer, Chucky is small in stature with lightening acceleration and the ability to skip past defenders given his low centre of gravity.
Born just north of Rosario in the town of San Lorenzo, Cervi joined Central’s academy at six and represented the club at every level demonstrating these same skills from an early age. However, it was with the reserves under the leadership of Hugo Galloni in 2013 that Chucky really made a name for himself. 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 Transición and although Cervi enjoyed only a handful of outings, the youngster impressed, standing out even in defeat to champions Racing.
Eduardo Coudet taking over as manager at the start of 2015 proved an important moment as Cervi went straight into the starting eleven for the following season. Chacho’s faith almost reaped the ultimate prize as Cervi, in behind the prolific Marco Ruben, came close to helping El Canalla to a first trophy since 1987.
Benfica had seen enough to part with a fee in the region of $5.5 million and while the Águias may not have benefitted from the same end product on a regular basis, Cervi still provides manager Rui Vitória with a dangerous attacking option.
“Cervi was tremendously impressive in his first season at Benfica. Skillful, nippy, a goal threat, and with a terrific work rate and willingness to help out defensively, which is often not the case with ‘flair’ players landing from South America, at least to start with. Benfica were packed with wide midfielders/wingers last season but he made his spot wide left his own, relegating the record domestic transfer in Portugal, Rafa Silva, and the highly rated André Carrillo to the bench.
He’s perhaps not really kicked on this season but in his defence that’s probably as much of a reflection of the team’s troubles, struggling after the sale of four key players.”
“Benfica’s wingers have all been a bit in and out of the team this season and that’s why no one except Salvio has continuous minutes. Either way Cervi has apparently finally won a spot in the eleven and rightly so. Quick, a great dribbler and with the added advantage of contributing a lot defensively on that left side which is massive.”