It was after only 450 minutes of first team football with Boca Juniors that Borussia Dortmund swooped for Leonardo Balerdi in January of 2019. An indication of the defender’s talent perhaps yet with chances hard to come by at Signal Iduna Park and only seven Bundesliga appearances this season, the 21-year-old has now been granted a fresh opportunity to kickstart his European career after completing a move to Olympique de Marseille.
The French club confirmed on Tuesday morning that Balerdi has signed a one-year loan deal, understood to include an option to make the move permanent for around €14 million.
The Boca academy product is the second signing of the window after the arrival of Pape Gueye and Marseille, who are understood to have be long-term admirers of Balerdi are clearly thrilled. “His strengths include his game intelligence, his steadiness in both ground and aerial duels, as well as his ability to adapt — which will allow him to fit into André Villas-Boas’s squad,” Marseille’s official statement read on the website.
A chance to gain regular playing time is clearly important and while Marseille’s option may appear steep, Dortmund paid €16 million, making Balerdi the fourth most expensive Boca player in the club’s history, only a 18 months ago.
The German club have shown a consistent eye for talent and had seen enough of Balerdi in the Boca and Argentina youth sides to warrant the fee.
Tall and defensively astute, Balerdi joined Boca’s academy at 14 as a central midfielder and this technical quality on the ball is still evident as the San Luís native comfortably brings the ball out from the back.
A natural leader at youth level, Balerdi was part of Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina under-20s that lifted the COTIF trophy in L’Alcúdia in 2018 and it was these performances that first attracted a number of top European clubs. Dortmund opted to move prior to the 2019 South American Championships, in which Argentina finished as runners-up, and despite not featuring a great deal in Germany it didn’t prevent Balerdi making his senior international debut against Mexico last September.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni knows the player well and clearly holds him in high regard. Eager to impress and with the potential to become one of Argentina’s main centra defenders, Marseille will be hoping that they can now be the beneficiaries.
Under-20 colleagues Nehuén Pérez and Marcos Senesi have both made successful moves to Europe and are now presumably ahead of Balerdi in the pecking order. That could quickly change if the 21-year-old adjusts to life in the south of France and if so, €14 million for a player of Balerdi’s potential may look like very astute business.