Vamos los Pibes: Emanuel Mammana
ARTICLE FIRST FEATURED ON OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT
When a player earns a first international cap before they’ve made their club debut, people sit up and take notice. Combine that with the relative lack of defensive prospects emerging from Argentina in recent years and it’s understandable to see why hopes are so high for River Plate’s Emanuel Mammana.
Who is Emanuel Mammana?
Born on 10th February 1996 in the town of Merlo in the west of Greater Buenos Aires, Mammana suffered tragedy early in life when as a six-year-old he lost his mother. Two years later River noticed his potential and he joined the club’s famed academy, initially as a midfielder before moving to centre back, impressing as he progressed through the youth ranks.
However, in 2011, adversity struck again when his father died. Such a setback could have easily derailed a nascent career but with the support of his family, girlfriend and teammates Mammana soldiered on, determined to succeed in order to honour his late parents.
That same year, Mammana received a call up to the Argentina U15 squad, playing seven times as they finished third in the Sudamericano. And it was once again in the white and sky blue of the Albiceleste that Mammana began to gain recognition, this time with U17s as they won the Sudamericano on home soil in early 2013.
At the U17 World Cup in the UAE later that year Mammana was one of the star performers, exuding composure beyond his years as he marshalled Argentina to the semi-finals. Widely considered one of the best defenders on show, it was an impressive introduction to a wider audience. At club level he was also a key player for River’s Sexta division as they won the U17 Club World Cup against Atletico Madrid with a goal from national teammate Sebastian Driussi.
His performances had clearly impressed Alejandro Sabella too as he was called up as part of a sparring squad to train with the national team ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Injuries to Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay meant that an unexpected substitute berth became available ahead of a friendly against Slovenia and, with 15 minutes remaining, Mammana followed in the footsteps of former River alumni Javier Mascherano to become only the second player to make their senior international debut for Argentina before having appearing for their club’s first team. Fittingly, it was Mascherano who he replaced for his historic cameo.
Under new boss Marcelo Gallardo, Mammana made his debut for River in October 2014 against Rosario Central in the quarter finals of the Copa Argentina. A couple more appearances in the league followed before the young defender was entrusted with a start at right back in the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional. Mammana played for an hour in a one all draw which gave River a 3-1 aggregate victory and their first continental triumph in 17 years.
Success continued to roll in as Mammana was the undisputed leader of the defence for the Argentina U20s as they won the Sudamericano in early 2015. Although he was still used sparingly for River, he started to accrue more game time in the league and started the Supercopa Euroamericana victory against Sevilla. Also a member of River’s Copa Libertadores winning squad, Mammana made solid contributions at full back against Boca and Cruzeiro and by the age of 19 already has more trophies to his name than many players manage in an entire career.
Unfortunately, Argentina surprisingly crashed out at the group stage of the U20 World Cup this summer despite Mammana’s best attempts at almost single-handedly holding the defence together. Meanwhile at River, the sales of Ramiro Funes Mori and German Pezzella have seen Mammana move up the pecking order as he bids to become a regular for Marcelo Gallardo’s all conquering Millonarios.
Style of Play, Strengths and Weaknesses
A classy, elegant, ball-playing defender, Mammana’s calm and composed style immediately makes him stand out from his peers. His time spent as a midfielder when he was younger has bestowed him with technique, a comfort in possession and passing skills that are uncommon in other players in his position and as such Mammana is always looking to play out from the back.
One of Mammana’s main strengths is his ability to intercept and snuff out danger, born out of his exceptional timing and great positional sense. This in turn means he rarely has to fly into challenges but when he does have to resort to a tackle they are usually well anticipated and pretty clean, highlighted by the fact he rarely picks up many cards. These characteristics all contribute to his stylish, mature attitude to defending.
Although predominantly a centre back, Mammana has also been used as a right back on various occasions by Marcelo Gallardo due to his technique, intelligence and reading of the game. Boasting decent pace and a willingness to get forward, the versatile youngster has not looked out of place at full back, even if he is a more defensive option than a typical modern attacking full back. His effortless flick over the onrushing Willian in the Libertadores clash against Cruzeiro serves as a perfect example of his skilful approach to defending, as well as the way he handles the pressure of performing on the biggest stage for one of the giants of South American football.
His personality and mental attributes are also among his key strengths. Having had to overcome such personal hardships off the field has moulded him into a determined, resolute and mature individual, something that comes across in the way he plays the game. A leader on the field, he has consistently been one of the reference points of various Argentina youth teams, along with clubmate and goalkeeper Augusto Batalla.
There is room for improvement though and his tendency to bring the ball out from defence has occasionally caught him out when a direct approach may have been more advisable. Hopefully these odd mistakes can be ironed out and his decision-making improved with experience. One other area that could use some work is some extra strength as he is still rather wiry and, though his marking is good, against more physical opponents could be outmuscled. Standing at six foot tall, he is good in the air but he could also use some added aerial dominance to his game. These should improve over time and are often offset by partnering him alongside a more physically imposing centre back such as Jonathan Maidana or Eder Alvarez Balanta.
What does the future hold?
At present, Mammana’s main focus will be in consolidating himself as a first choice defender for River Plate. With the departures of some key figures, chances should be more readily available and with River involved in various continental competitions the need to rotate the squad should bode in his favour and give him plenty more game time in the next 12 months.
There have been persistent rumours linking him with a move abroad however and a move could come as early as next summer. Atletico Madrid, having already snapped up Angel Correa and with Matias Kranevitter joining in December, have been the club most heavily linked with his signature but there is a whole host of interest ranging from Arsenal and Tottenham to Inter Milan and Valencia.
On an international level, having already represented Argentina at various age groups, the expectation will be that Mammana continues his trajectory to become a cornerstone of the Albiceleste defence in years to come. As there really is a dearth of young defensive talent emerging at the moment, the hope (and even necessity) that Mammana fulfils his potential will be extremely high.
The fact he has been given his first cap already is a massive show of faith from those who will want to ease him into the senior set-up and the next logical step would be to include him in the Olympic squad for the Rio Olympics next year. Either way, his progression will be closely observed and scrutinised both within Argentina and further afield to see if he lives up to his billing as one of the top defensive prospects emerging at the moment.