Five Argentinian No. 5s for the future
If the most iconic footballing number in Argentina is the number 10 worn by famous enganches such as Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme and now Lionel Messi, then the number 5 is not far behind in terms of importance. Worn by the defensive midfielder, the number 5 typically acts as the rudder of the team, breaking up play, shielding the back line, initiating attacks and dictating the tempo. Often the position is associated with dogged warriors in the mould of Javier Mascherano, Antonio Rattin or Nestor ‘Pipo’ Rossi but equally it can take the form of a more cerebral deep-lying playmaker like Fernando Redondo.
Mascherano’s heroics at the World Cup will go down in Argentinian football folklore as the epitome of everything the number 5 shirt should embody. But, at 30, the Jefecito will probably only have one more World Cup left in him and the Albiceleste will need to begin looking for an heir. Fortunately there are a promising crop of young defensive midfielders emerging who could go some way to filling the void.
Matias Kranevitter, 21, River Plate
Arguably the best young player in Argentina over the last twelve months, the 21-year-old has established himself as the midfield lynchpin in Marcelo Gallardo’s vibrant, attacking side. His tough tackling, endless energy and positional excellence were vital to River’s sensational early form until an injury ruled him out for most of the season, returning just in time to make the bench for the Sudamericana final. As well as the impressive defensive side to the Tucuman native’s game, Kranevitter gives his side great balance and while his passing isn’t outstanding it is at least solid and reliable, ensuring possession is not squandered and attacks can be launched.
Kranevitter has racked up over 50 appearances for club, winning a domestic and continental title, and has represented Argentina at under-20 level too. A number of Italian clubs have taken notice of his standout performances and a move in the summer is likely, while there is increasing demand for a national team call up with many seeing him as the long term replacement for Javier Mascherano. In the meantime, Kranevitter will continue to form an integral part of River’s squad as they look to mount a serious Libertadores challenge in 2015.
Lucas Romero, 20, Velez
More than just a destroyer, Lucas Romero is perhaps the most box-to-box of all the midfielders in this list. Powerful, tenacious and with a low centre of gravity, Romero packs a punch and can mix it with more physically imposing opponents but combines these defensive capabilities with fantastic technique, incisive passing and a seemingly limitless supply of energy. He also has a decent shot on him which means he can chip in with the odd goal, though this is not his forte. Indeed, Tim Vickery has likened him to a “more defensive version of a young Diego Simeone”.
Having burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old, Romero has accrued quite a bit of experience for a player yet to turn twenty one. Velez have a brilliant track record at bringing youngsters through and Romero has been a regular over the last two years, racking up well over 80 appearances for el Fortin, featuring in two Libertadores campaigns and helping to win the 2012 Torneo Inicial. It was surprise that a move didn’t materialise last summer, with Celta Vigo and Sevilla heavily linked, but it won’t be long until the inevitable transfer does arrive as Velez are looking to cash in. Along with other Italian clubs, Torino are rumoured to be interested but a full non-EU quota has allowed Flamengo and Cruzeiro to join the race for the young Argentinian. Although Brazil would be a step up, Romero has the talent to fit right in straight away at any top European club and go on to be a regular for the national team in the future.
Adrian Cubas, 18, Boca
The youngest player on the list, Adrian Cubas emerged as a real prospect during the Torneo de Transicion after an injury to Cristian ‘Pichi’ Erbes paved the way for the 18-year-old to slot into the base of Boca’s midfield. Despite having only made ten senior appearances, Cubas has put in a string of eye catching performances that belie his tender years and he was voted as the club’s best youngster at the AFA end of year awards. His positional intelligence, effective pressing and tackling make up for his slightly lightweight frame and he possesses an impressive range of passing which is far more expansive than the usual bruisers. Battaglia and Gago are obvious reference points for any young defensive midfielder coming through at Boca but Cubas has often been likened to Mauricio Serna due to their similarities in style.
Born in the province of Misiones, Cubas’ family is Paraguayan and there are reports that Ramon Diaz is hoping to naturalise the promising defensive midfielder to play for the Albiroja. The Argentinian FA would be wise to ensure that they don’t let Cubas slip through their fingers and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him encorporated into the U20 set up ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand this summer. It’s set to be a big year for the teenage star domestically too as he aims to tie down a place in the Boca first team, with the added incentive of his first taste of Libertadores football.
Gaston Gil Romero, 21, Estudiantes
A longstanding hotbed of footballing talent, La Plata side Estudiantes have been churning out talented youngsters at a rapid rate recently. Promising left back Jonathan Silva and outstanding goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli both left in the summer for Sporting Lisbon and Real Sociedad respectively, while Joaquin Correa has departed for Sampdoria in a $10million deal last month. Going somewhat under the radar is defensive midfield terrier Gaston Gil Romero. Still only 21, the midfield anchor has amassed over seventy appearances for Estudiantes since his debut in early 2012 and has been one of the first names of the teamsheet for boss Mauricio Pellegrino.
Constantly hassling and hurrying, Gil Romero is brilliant at breaking up play, whether it be through timely interceptions or his tidy tackling ability. A born leader, he is already the club captain, having worn the armband at every youth level too, and has had the privilege to learn from and play alongside Juan Sebastian Veron – now club president – which can only have benefited his development. It is surprising that Gil Romero’s name hasn’t been bandied around more but it is nearing the time where a move to Europe is the next logical step in a very promising career.
Joaquin Arzura, 21, Tigre
Strong, brave and not afraid to get stuck in, Joaquin Arzura’s full blooded performances have made him an indispensable member of the Tigre midfield. There is also some craft to go along with the graft and Joaco is deceptively quick across the ground, allowing him to drive forward and occasionally contribute to the attack. However, his primary focus is the defensive side of the game and it’s a role he executes impressively thanks to his tenacity, uncompromising tackling and good positioning. He does commit quite a few fouls which, though an inevitable by-product of a defensive midfielder’s job, is be an area to work on but one that should improve with experience.
Arzura made his debut back in 2011 but only began to get regular game time midway through 2013, making an immediate impact and he has been a regular ever since. With 50 games under his belt, he has rapidly become a key player for an interesting Tigre side that also boasts talented prospects such as defender Erik Godoy, midfielder Kevin Itabel and forward Sebastian Rincon. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Arzura be plucked by one of the big clubs in Argentina before any potential move abroad.
Only time will tell whether any of the above go on to emulate the success of Mascherano, Redondo and their predecessors but there is certainly reason to be hopeful that Argentina’s future number 5 shirt will be in capable hands.