Exequiel Palacios Bayer Leverkusen 05/10/1998 Last year position: 9
River Plate managed to hold on to inspirational coach Marcelo Gallardo for 2020 but the side’s run to a second consecutive Copa Libertadores final was always going to attract attention. El Muñeco wasn’t best pleased but no sooner had River suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Flamengo in Lima, Exequiel Palacios was sold to Bayer Leverkusen. The 21-year-old, and probably more importantly his agent, knew all too well Palacios’ value having broken into the Argentina team and proving to be one of South America’s most dynamic midfielders. With no interest in renegotiating a deal, Bayer Leverkusen moved quickly to pay the bargain release clause of around $24 million and with it captured an exciting box-to-box midfielder who looks set to play an important role for La Albiceleste for many years.
Lisandro Martínez Ajax
18/01/1998 Last year position: 21
No one who watched Lisandro Martínez at Defensa y Justicia would have doubted his quality and yet the manner in which the 21-year-old has slotted into the Ajax side with ease still comes as something of a surprise. Not least because Martínez has largely done so as a defensive midfielder at the Johan Cruyff Arena after catching the eye of European scouts as a central defender during El Halcón’s best ever season. What Ajax will have spotted despite his defensive role in Florencio Varela was the youngster’s ease on the ball and his incisive passing and that have translated perfectly into his new position. An outstanding defender to boot, were it not for Martínez’s small stature he would undoubtedly have been plucked from Defensa y Justicia with far greater fanfare and it is perhaps the only thing that still sees him inexplicably outside Lionel Scaloni’s plans. It surely can’t be long before Martínez adds to his solitary Argentina cap and a place in a potential Olympic squad could be the launchpad.
Juan Foyth Tottenham Hotspur 12/01/1998 Last year position: 6
Mauricio Pochettino claimed that Juan Foyth has the “potential to be one of the best centre-backs in Europe.” Poch has of course since left Spurs and the 21-year-old is yet to nail down a starting role at Tottenham yet Foyth has established himself as a more than decent right-back for club and country. The Estudiantes academy graduate transitioned from a creative midfielder into defence and that ease in the ball is still evident as Foyth looks to stride out from the back. It can sometimes get the youngster into bother but has been a useful attribute when switching to full-back. Since the Copa América, where Foyth performed admirably on the right of a back four, the Spurs defender has been a key part of Lionel Scaloni’s squad and he looks to continue there for now even if his long term future is in the centre.
Giovani Lo Celso
Tottenham Hotspur 09/04/1996 Last year position: 1
Some Tottenham supporters might be scratching their heads as the club prepare to pay the €32 million clause to make Giovani Lo Celso’s loan from Real Betis permanent. The 23-year-old’s performances to date in London haven’t lived up to the hype yet the club know what a tremendous piece of business that still represents for a midfielder capable of unlocking the tightest defence. The deft touches, superb technique, eye of a needle passing and emphatic left-foot finishing that were so evident at Real Betis last season were what prompted Paris Saint-Germain to snap up the Rosario Central talent in 2016. Though waylaid by PSG’s decision to utilise Lo Celso in a more defensive role, Betis revitalised the Rosarino and just like the French club previously, Spurs were captivated. Argentina are also yet to truly get the best out of Lo Celso and while Lionel Scaloni has far more faith than Jorge Sampaoli, fitting the playmaker into the system is tricky. Regardless, Lo Celso is a wonderful talent that Spurs and Argentina will see a great deal more of.
Inter Milan 22/08/1997 Last year position: 2
While there is a great deal to debate throughout the 50, few would argue with 2019’s number one – the year that the rest of the world woke up to the brilliance of Lautaro Martínez. Whether it be at youth level, in Racing Club’s first team, for Argentina under-20s, the Copa Libertadores, Serie A or as the Albiceleste’s main striker, goals simply follow Lautaro. Each new level is surpassed with consummate ease and it’s a hugely exciting prospect that we yet to see anywhere near the 22-year-old’s ceiling. For those that saw the teenage striker break into the Racing side and immediately look at home, bouncing off challenges, driving towards the penalty box and scoring a variety of different goals, it is no real surprise. Inter got themselves a bargain and now the rest of Europe ponders just how much money it would take to prise away one of the best goalscoring youngsters in the world. Already at least on a par with Sergio Agüero as far as Argentina are concerned, the only question when not pairing the two together is who is Lionel Scaloni’s main man? It might just be Lautaro already but it certainly will be over the course of the next decade and if the boy from Bahía Blanca reaches anywhere near his potential, the future doesn’t look too bad for La Albiceleste.