All eyes have been on the Argentine No.10 for a long time, but new blood looks set to be introduced across the entire forward line.
The bombshell that was the international retirement of one of football’s greatest ever players, is of course set to be profoundly deep for Argentina and its fans.
For a nation so long accustomed to the very best, some may well struggle to remember further back than when Lionel Messi took up the iconic No.10 jersey full time.
Since then, other outstanding individuals by the likes of Juan Román Riquelme and Pablito Aimar have almost paled in to obscurity, such is the magnitude of Messi’s star.
The daunting nature that is the task of replacing Messi, looks set to fall primarily on the shoulders of Juventus starlet Paulo Dybala (22-years of age).
he current wearer of the Juve’ No.21 has long since been regarded as one of world football’s most exciting prospects. However, having featured only sporadically to date, he now looks set to begin a rather abrupt baptism of fire.
Should ‘La Joya‘ require some support, a potential name that has not been at the forefront would be that of PSG bound Giovani Lo Celso (20).
The exciting youngster, also a native of Rosario, has shown an outrageous level of talent and promise back home. So much so that the ensuing bidding war amongst Europe’s biggest clubs, meant that the Parisians had to go all-in to (seemingly) secure his signature.
In all likelihood, Messi’s proposed international departure should lead to changes across the frontline for Argentina.
Sergio Agüero (28) has been mooted as another one to call time on his international career. As has been the case with Gonzalo Higuaín (28) also.
Truth be told, even if either or indeed both remain, their record in consecutive finals means that despite his much publicised off-field indiscretions, Internazionale’s captain Mauro Icardi (23) will almost certainly be given his chance to stake a claim.
Icardi, one of the globes most coveted forwards, could also be joined by the similarly popular Jonathan Calleri (22). The current Copa Libertadores top scorer is virtually guaranteed to swap continents this summer.
Concurrently, Lucho Vietto may have had a difficult first season in the capital with Atletico Madrid, but one would be writing him off as a player of notable promise, (at this stage) with considerable peril.
The new ‘chief’ on the block
Since making his international debut under Marcelo Bielsa back in 2003 (somewhat peculiarly before even making his club bow), until the very last day at the MetLife Stadium this summer, Javier Mascherano has been an inspirational leader for the national team.
Therefore, despite it being possibly overlooked by many, ‘El Jefecito’s’ (the little chief as he is also known) international departure will likely create as big a void as Leo Messi’s.
In terms of his future replacement, it would be foolish to look any further than Atletico Madrid midfielder Matías Kranevitter (23).
The former River Plate defensive-midfielder has already been (sporadically) involved in the squad, as recently as this summer, and in the showcase final no less. In his one start in the tournament he had what you could call a “Xavi-esque“, metronomic precision of a 95% pass accuracy, while also making a tournament high of 110 passes against Bolivia in Argentina’s final group match.
Despite having made barely half a dozen senior international appearances, ‘El Tucu‘ as Kranevitter is affectionately known, would be the overwhelming favourite to inherit the role as midfield chief.
In terms of somewhat further afield options to provide a healthy competition, the current domestic standout would be Estudiantes De La Plata’s Santiago Ascacibar (19), having a more than notable first senior tournament last time out. As well as Boca Juniors’ diminutive water carrier Adrián Cubas, and Rio 2016 selection Mauricio Martínez (23) of Unión de Santa Fe.
To a lesser extent, former teen prodigy Lucas Romero (22) has fallen down the pecking order, hoping a move to Brazil with Cruzeiro may help revert this. Meanwhile, the largely unheralded Gonzalo Escalante (23) of Eibar could be a left-field option to look out for.
When analysing Argentina’s midfield pairing, it stands to reason this will be another area of the team to suffer change, with talk of Lucas Biglia (30) and a host of other aging partners nearing the end of their national stints. Therefore, this could well be the cue for the introduction of new blood on the road to Russia.
AS Roma’s Leandro Paredes has developed his game considerably since leaving his homeland, and would be ideally placed. As for that matter Manuel Lanzini would be too, after his recent Premier League stardom with West Ham United last season.
An Ángel on the wing regardless
Amid the mass potential exodus from the Argentine national team, Ángel Di María is one of the plethora of names touted as on the way out.
Although this perhaps looks somewhat unlikely given “El Fideo’s” age, his tailor made replacement (aside from the in-house choice so far this summer of Atletico Madrid bound Nicolás Gaitán) has already been given his chance, and indeed bares more than a passing similarity both in style – and in name for that matter! This would be none other than under-20 World Cup winner Angel Correa.
Ángelito (21) has been earmarked for club stardom and on the international stage by compatriot and current boss Diego Pablo Simeone. In fact he will looking to improve his case this summer, as he leads the Olympic side out in Rio.
5 – Ángel Correa has scored more goals than any other substitute in La Liga this season. Nerve.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 23, 2016
Alongside Correa, the likes of Valencia’s Fede Cartabia (23), Joaquín (21) with U.C Sampdoria in Italy, and even recent SL Benfica recruit Franco Cervi (22) could well hope to feature throughout the World Cup qualifiers.
Independiente de Avellaneda’s Martín Benítez (22) and Cristian Espinoza (21) of CA Huracán should be ones to keep an eye on in the short to mid-term future, for both (a move to Europe virtually a certainty) and country.
All-in-all, a rather profound transition looks set to take place, beginning at this summer’s Rio Olympics. It is here the likes of Gerónimo Rulli (24), Europe bound Emanuel Mammana (20), and perhaps even Mateo Musacchio (25), could well be involved too, among the many others chosen to break in the new generation.
Albeit the question on everybody’s lips is – will Gerardo Martino be the man to steer the ship through the upcoming turbulent waters?
What are your thoughts?