South American aces coming to a Premier League club near you
With one Argentine forward sealing Manchester City’s Premier League title in the dying seconds and another on a run of three successive Ballon d’Or wins, the Southern Cone’s reputation as an enduring hotbed of talent is as strong as ever. So, what can fans of Manchester United, Man City and Chelsea expect if their team secure their transfer targets from the region this summer?
The improvement in Uruguay’s national youth set-up, and the recognition of Chile as a genuine South American power under Marcelo Bielsa and now Claudio Borghi, mean that it is no longer just a case of buying up the best players from Brazil and Argentina: the transfer net must be cast further afield to pick up the best value and the brightest talents.
Manchester United can be commended for the way they went about their chase for Universidad de Chile striker Ángelo Henríquez (pictured). They saw his raw talent at a young age, with chief scout Jim Lawlor despatched to have a look at him after Man Utd’s extensive network had seen him impressing for Chile under-17s. The Old Trafford hierarchy agreed a ‘first option’ deal with the Chilean club that meant they could purchase the starlet for €4m at any time until 2014.
When ‘La U’ sold Gustavo Canales in December, manager Jorge Sampaoli trusted the youngster to step in and replace him, and that he has done. Now 18, Henríquez has scored 10 goals in 14 domestic games to help fire his club to the Apertura final, a contest they are expected to win for the third year in a row.
The real impression he has made, though, has been on the continental scene, where he has scored four goals in 10 Copa Libertadores games. Proving himself in the South American equivalent of the Champions League, against a far higher standard of opposition and at such a tender age, is an enormous part of why Man Utd are expected to bring his deal forward and get him over to England this summer.
In terms of style, he is more like a Danny Welbeck than a Javier Hernández. His main strengths are his movement – getting across a defender or dropping deep to pull him out of position – and his speed, while his link-play and awareness is jaw-dropping for one so young, and he possesses a strength that belies his slim, 5ft 11in frame.
His team-mate Matías Rodríguez has attracted the interest of Chelsea and Manchester City, after the wing-back broke into the Argentina squad on the back of an impressive 12 months. But City’s eyes are more focused on the traditional talent factory of River Plate, where two of the continent’s best young players are blossoming.
Lucas Ocampos is still just 17, but he has been linked with some of European football’s leading lights ever since his first-team debut in August last year. He is unusually tall for a winger, and his 6ft 2in frame and burning pace have led to comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo rather than compatriot Lionel Messi, with the River Plate forward citing the Portuguese as his idol.
It seems though that Ocampos’ team-mate Ezequiel Cirigliano is the one more likely to make the move to Eastlands. ‘Ciri’ is a classic Argentine No5 in the mould of Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso, and when Man City sent Attilio Lombardo to watch River play Instituto in a top-of-the-table clash in April, the Italian is said to have been supremely impressed by the poise and maturity of the midfielder, as well as his range of accurate passes from deep.
River Plate sources have revealed that Man City were attempting to negotiate a similar sort of ‘first option’ deal to the one that their cross-city rivals had for Henríquez, but Millionarios president Daniel Passarella is reluctant to tie down his club to any exclusivity deal, preferring to initiate a bidding war if they are forced to sell one of South America’s top young talents.
Elsewhere, Banfield left-back Nicolás Tagliafico is certain to leave the club after their relegation from the top flight, and was watched by Barcelona in the spring. Stoke were also interested in the youngster, but will not pursue a deal as they do not think he is tall enough for the English game.
West Brom’s scouting of the Argentine league has been no secret, with their director of football Dan Ashworth flying out to watch both Mariano Pavone of Lanús and Claudio Yacob of Racing Club de Avellaneda since Christmas. Both are free agents from 30 June.
Facundo Ferreyra is another player destined to leave Banfield, and while former admirers Newcastle are no longer interested in the striker, Everton are believed to be considering a bid now that his asking price has dropped.
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