Argentina are one of the favourites to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup after a runners-up finish last time out in Brazil.
Nonetheless, they travel to Russia a more well-rounded side compared to that which tasted defeat to Germany four years ago, largely due to the addition of Paris Saint Germain youngster, Giovani Lo Celso.
Overshadowed by Lionel Messi for his country and Neymar for his club, Lo Celso falls under the category of ‘under-appreciated, but highly influential’ at each level he plays.
At just 21 years of age, the Argentine has reinvented himself as a balanced midfielder throughout his time in the French capital, proving to be the missing ingredient for both of the teams he turns out for.
An impressive passing range, above average technique and the capability to play from deep and recycle possession, makes him a particularly important player in Argentina’s current system.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Who is he?
A product of Rosario Central, PSG paid nearly €10 million for Lo Celso’s services back in July of 2016.
The 21-year-old initially had a slow start in Paris, but injuries to important first-team players ensured departing boss Unai Emery granted him an opportunity to showcase his ability.
He finally made his PSG debut in April, and became an important squad member in Unai Emery’s side this season, with his impressive technical ability making him look comfortable alongside the world’s most expensive players.
Despite making 47 appearances across all competitions and establishing himself as a regular among stars at club level, he will be one of the lesser-known players heading to Russia this summer.
What is his international experience/record?
Lo Celso’s continued development saw him named in Argentina’s squad for November’s friendlies against Russia and Nigeria.
The 21-year-old appeared in both matches for his first two international caps, before featuring a further three times later in the season against Italy, Spain and Haiti.
Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?
From relative unknown to regular starter, 2018 has marked a major breakthrough year for the midfielder.
After a slow start at PSG, it appeared entirely unlikely that the 21-year-old would play his way into Argentina’s World Cup squad, and yet, he has.
More forward-thinking players, including Lionel Messi, long for players like Lo Celso to provide the foundations from which to launch attack after attack.
For Argentine’s abundance of talented front men, the 21-year-old has essentially simplified their job, allowing them to focus on putting the ball in the back of the next.
What is his future after the World Cup?
With a bright future at Paris Saint Germain, Lo Celso will only be interested in one club once the summer competition comes to an end.
Former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel is set to take over the reigns at Parc des Princes, after Emery’s departure, and the 21-year-old will be keen to get his head down and impress his new manager.
Lo Celso has established himself among a young core of players that will lend itself very kindly to Tuchel and the project he is hoping to build in Ligue 1.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
How does Argentina continue to create Europe’s very best players?
Carlos Tevez made a name for himself at Boca Juniors, winning the club World Cup before he dragged West Ham out of the relegation zone in 2006 and won it all in Manchester. Coming from Independiente, Aguero shone at Atletico Madrid and continues to tear it up in the Premier League. Before bossing the midfield at Liverpool and West Ham and keeping the backline in tact at the Camp Nou, Javier Mascherano emerged from River Plate. Juan Roman Riquelme, who was raised at Argentino Juniors and Boca Juniors, is still storied to be the last true no. 10 after he lead Villarreal in an amazing season that almost took them to the Champions League Semi-final. Angel Di Maria learned the trade at Rosario Central before he made it at Benfica, Real Madrid, Machester United, and PSG.
Premier League teams and those in Europe’s other major leagues have enjoyed Argentina’s crop of footballers. In fact, Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of football talent, 2700 players grace the world’s many club teams. Argentina is known to be football-mad, but demographically and contextually the South American country should not be the world’s primary football factory.
Population-wise it is smaller than its equally fanatical neighbour Brazil and Central American counterparts Mexico. Football-wise, both countries have better established and financially secure domestic football systems than Argentina’s, who are chronically going bankrupt, missing wage payments, arguing over TV deals, and corrupt from the fan group Barra Bravas and the manipulative chairmen and CEO’s that run the clubs.
Yet, Argentine footballers are fairly reliable in Europe. Most make valuable contributions, whether it be in Italy, Spain, or England.
Argentina’s top-flight is relatable to Europe and the Premier League. In the microcosm of South American football, it has the most prestigious and storied division, having succeeded at the Copa Libertadores (South America’s continental football competition) more than any other country (24 titles divided among Boca, River, Independiente, Estudiantes de La Plata, San Lorenzo, Argentinos Juniors, Racing, and Vélez Sársfield). Fans up and down the continent recognise and sometimes watch Argentina’s big two, Boca and River Plate.
Domestically, Argentines live and breathe football, sometimes to dangerous degrees with fan violence often marring the spectacles of passion and commitment to clubs. All matches are televised. The eyes of the country scrutinise every team and every player. Rarely do Argentina’s exports crumble under pressure as they learned to play the game in an unforgiving atmosphere of high expectations at home.
However, Argentinean footballers even so may face more pressure in Argentina than they ever will in Europe despite the money and wide audience of Serie A, La Liga, and the Premier League. At home, Argentinians have to play in tougher conditions than abroad. Due to the chaos of the Argentine Football Association, commonly referred to as AFA, the league format and calendar fluctuates year to year, and fixtures in the cup competition are announced at a weeks notice.
Carlos Tevez, a seasoned veteran of the game who’s won in Argentina, Brazil, England, and Italy at the highest level, recently admitted the pressure from outside was making him fall out with football. In an interview after picking up a three-match ban, he claimed “the penalty was given to [him] by journalists,” and that “[he] enjoys football but not everything that surrounds it… [In Argentina}, you find out on Monday if you play on Friday.”
For a young footballer breaking into the game the psychological aspect of the Argentine top flight is a cauldron of fire, pressure riveting from journalists and fans. While the football is still of a high calibre, with the exception of Argentina’s big boys, the average Brazilian or Mexican team is better off. Where the learning curve really kicks in is in adapting to pressure and expectations in Argentina.
Argentinians in Europe are finally allowed to just play football. If they can adapt to cultural life they should be fine in their new European clubs. The grit of the Argentine leagues make players versatile enough for the roughness of the Premier League and tiki-taka of Spain, a reliable adaptability that has eluded young players in other countries.
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