‘This isn’t goodbye, it is see you later,’ were the words of Maxi Meza to Independiente as his transfer to big spending Liga MX club Monterrey was confirmed on Sunday. One year on from seeing Ezequiel Barco head north to Atlanta United, El Rojo are left to replace another influential member of Ariel Holan’s side and the club must ensure that they replace better than they did on that occasion.
Meza’s departure was inevitable after a tremendous couple of years in Avellaneda that had seen the midfielder force his way into the Argentina squad but having failed to secure a move to Europe, Monterrey were finally able to agree terms with Independiente.
The Argentinian club confirmed on Sunday that a $15 million transfer fee plus potentially a further $2 million in add-ons and the full expense of two preseasons in Mexico and the United States would be paid for by Monterrey and with that Meza said his farewells.
Maximiliano Meza jugará en @Rayados.#GraciasMaxi por más de dos años llenos de fútbol. Como vos dijiste: no es un adiós, es un hasta luego. #Independiente siempre será tu casa.
Whether Meza is of the quality to play for Argentina or why he became such a regular under Jorge Sampaoli at the World Cup are valid questions but there should equally be little doubt over his contribution to Independiente during a period of resurgence for the fallen giants.
Arriving in Avellaneda from Gimnasia for $2 million to limited fanfare in September 2016, Meza took a few months to find his feet but during a superb 2017 the 26-year-old emerged as a key player for Ariel Holan, culminating in the club lifting the Copa Sudamericana in the Maracaná.
If Meza’s wonderful solo goal in the clásico against Racing Club in May of that year had made the midfielder a fan favourite it was the Sudamericana campaign that solidified his place in the hearts of supporters. Meza’s volley in the final against Flamengo gave El Rojo the first leg lead they took to Brazil and although Ezequiel Barco somewhat stole the headlines with his vital penalty in the Maracaná, Meza’s importance shouldn’t be understated.
A skilful dribbler capable of beating defenders one-on-one, a fine striker of the ball with an eye for a pass, Meza’s creativity provided much of the threat in Independiente’s dynamic attack. Sampaoli, a regular at the Estadio Libertadores de América at this time was clearly a fan of Holan’s side and what perhaps caught the eye with Meza was his versatility to play on either wing or centrally behind a striker, while carrying out all required defensive duties.
A horribly disjointed Argentina never got to see this but Monterrey should be excited by the addition of one of Liga Mx’s most expensive signings if Meza can reproduce anything like his 2017 Independiente form.
The big question for Independiente is who to replace Meza with following a 2018 that ultimately ended in disappointment after missing out on the Copa Libertadores.
When Barco departed last year, the club failed to invest the money wisely and rather than identifying a number one target adopted a scatter-gun approach which ultimately failed to improve the side. There can be no repeat this time round.
Club icon Ricardo Bochini has already said that Independiente should go back for Richard Sánchez, the Paraguayan 22-year-old midfielder who El Rojo had agreed to sign in the previous window only to find themselves unable to do so with Fernando Amorebieta staying at the club and occupying a foreign player spot.
Junior forward Luis Díaz is another to have been linked and despite not replacing Meza, there has also been talk of Independiente meeting with Santos over an ambitious deal for central defender Walter Kannemann.
Whoever comes in, an improved 2019 will be demanded. Independiente ultimately fell short in all of their objectives for this year and after missing out on Libertadores qualification, Ariel Holan will not only want to ensure the highest possible Superliga finish but also have another run at the Copa Sudamericana.