If you don’t know what this is, it is the annual look at the 50 best young players in Argentina. All the information about the list is in the first part so here are the podium finishes before we reveal our number one…
25/02/1997 VfB Stuttgart Defensive midfield
For every so-called ‘next Lionel Messi’ over the past decade, Argentina has also had a steady stream of ‘next Javier Macheranos’, attached to every bustling, young defensive midfielder to show promise. None more so than Santiago Ascacibar and while the combative ball winner is yet to make his mark on the national team, Ascacibar is still best placed to fill the sizeable void left by El Jefecito.
A high-tempo, tough-tackling, seemingly indefatigable number five, Ascacibar has carried his consistent form to the Bundesliga and after one season with VfB Stuttgart, the club swiftly tied the 22-year-old down to a new deal that runs until 2023.
The €8 million paid to Estudiantes in 2017 looking like better value with each passing window as VfB sporting director Michael Reschke explained: “Santi has been an essential element of our squad. He possesses an absolutely exceptional willingness to perform and strength in challenges.
“In addition, he is a true team player, who relentlessly gives his all for the success of the team as a unit. We firmly believe that he can take on a vital leader’s role within our team in the future.”
Many in Argentina believe the same thing for the national team after Ascacibar immediately caught the eye playing for hometown club Estudiantes. An obsessive trainer with an insatiable appetite to improve from a young age, the teenager broke into the first team in 2016 and led the way in terms of tackling and ball-winning statistics in Argentina’s top flight.
The 2016 Olympics might not have been the best experience for anyone in Albiceleste but didn’t deter potential suitors. And when Diego Simeone, a man who knows a thing or too about playing in midfield and huevos, said “Ascacibar has the highest potential of any Argentine player, he is the future of Argentina,” it was clear Estudiantes had a special talent.
Stuttgart swooped a year later and despite attracting a few too many yellow cards, Ascacibar has been a regular even since, managing to maintain an average of over three tackles per game. With a tattoo of Diego Maradona on one calf, Ascacibar shares that familiar fire to the Argentine icon and although very different players, there is an underrated ability in El Ruso’s game.
A decent passer of the ball and comfortable in possession there is more than just the ugly side of midfield duties to see. Argentina, in need of a midfield revamp, could well do with Ascacibar over the coming years.
Lautaro Martínez 22/08/1997
Inter Milan Striker
While Mauro Icardi may have permanently soured his relationship with Inter supporters, the emergence of another talented Argentinian striker has somewhat softened the blow and now Lautaro Martínez looks primed to take Serie A by storm.
Losing a centre forward as prolific as Icardi has been could be reason for panic but former striker Antonio Cassano recently voiced an opinion shared by a growing number of supporters at the San Siro – “Lautaro Martinez is better than him [Icardi]”, Cassano said on Italian television.
“Inter play with a 4-2-3-1 system, which means they only need one striker. Icardi can’t play with Lautaro. Spalletti prefers Lautaro because he plays with the rest of the team, he is more involved in the attacking action. Lautaro is doing well, he is only 20 and he must play. He does many things, if Icardi doesn’t score he does nothing.”
Actually 21 now, Cassano is certainly right to highlight Martínez’s all-round game and while it is his goal scoring exploits that have always attracted attention, the boy from Bahía Blanca has shown far more to his game than pure goals. Not that Lautaro’s goal record isn’t impressive, after all it’s the currency that strikers deal in.
Six goals in only ten Serie A starts this season has followed on nicely from a goal-laden period at boyhood club Racing in both the league and the Copa Libertadores that had firmly established Lautaro as one of South America’s brightest talents. Atlético Madrid had appeared to have won the race for Martínez only for Racing to hold firm and eventually Inter utilised their relationship with director of football Diego Milito to pull off a coup for the relative bargain price of €22 million.
It was the iconic Milito, who the 18-year-old Martínez had replaced on his Racing debut back in 2015, and soon after the enormous potential that had been a relative secret while playing in the academy and reserves was out in the open.
A starring role for Argentina’s under-20s in L’Alcúdia alerted European scouts and interest never really died down. Learning his trade under the hugely experienced Milito and Lisandro López proved a tremendous experience and the goals continued to flow for Racing and La Albiceleste, dragging the under-20 side to the 2017 World Cup virtually single-handedly.
A lethal finisher of all types of goals, Martínez’s movement and intelligence around the penalty box creates the minute spaces with which he can finish off both feet and his head. A willing runner into the channels, El Toro’s strength makes him almost impossible to knock off the ball and his underrated link-up play and passing can create opportunities for his strike partner.
Quick, strong, tenacious and a natural goal scorer, Martínez has already scored his first senior international goal and is now set for a major role under Lionel Scaloni in this new era.
Thanks to anyone who helped out with compiling the list but special thanks to Tom Robinson for his input and player profiles. Part III will be up shortly…