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SPORTS | 11-01-2024 19:23

Familiar tale as football wonderkids are snapped up European clubs

So far in January, much of the discussion has revolved around two budding stars who look set to be lost to Argentine football – Valentín Barco and Claudio Echeverri are on their way to Premier League.

It's summer in Argentina, and all the annual favourites are back on our television screens. Garish pastel polo shirts; endless lingering shots of Mar del Plata's famed beaches; and hour upon hour of endless, football-free broadcast time reporters and presenters are forced to fill with all the biggest transfer stories of the season.

So far in January, much of the discussion has revolved around two budding stars who look set to be lost to Argentine football. Boca Juniors gem Valentín Barco, 19, is all but out of the door at La Bombonera after falling into the sights of Brighton, a club quickly becoming an obligatory stop on the way to stardom for South America's top young talents.

Apparently keen to follow in the footsteps of Alexis Mac Allister, Moisés Caicedo and Facundo Buonanotte, Barco had been pushing hard for Boca to accept the Seagulls' overtures; but, in the absence of a deal between clubs, he is now set to move for the full sum of his release clause, some US$10 million and, perhaps ominously, with no sell-on percentage included. It constitutes a major blow for new president Juan Román Riquelme less than a month into his tenure following December's crushing election win: the left-sided dynamo has the ability to be a fixture in the Xeneize squad for years to come, and losing him after just over 20 first-team appearances is a bitter pill to swallow.

If that seems like a swift move, it is nothing compared to what is happening at Boca's arch-rivals. Claudio Echeverri has made exactly one start for River Plate, but that was seemingly enough to convince Manchester City to shell out more than US$20 million (if the 17-year-old meets a range of different bonus objectives) at the start of January.

Echeverri will remain at River for a further year as part of the deal, but after using his full debut in December's Trofeo de Campeones as a stage to all but request a transfer it will remain to be seen just how much affection the Millonario retain for their playmaking whizzkid, despite his obvious talents. 
“Let's get used to the fact that when a young gem comes up we are going to enjoy him for very little time,” Independiente boss and erstwhile teen prodigy Carlos Tevez mused when asked about ‘El Diablito,’ a rather depressing but undeniably accurate assessment of just how hard it is even for Argentina's biggest clubs to keep hold of their most valuable assets.

It is not all doom and gloom around the transfer market, mind. Boca are closing on exciting Unión winger Kevin Zenón as their anointed successor to Barco and have already moved to strengthen at the back with grizzled veteran Cristian Lema, formerly of Belgrano, Newell's Old Boys and Lanús. River, meanwhile, added Naples-born midfielder Nicolás Fonseca, the son of ex-Uruguay international Daniel, while Palmeiras' ex-Lanús target man José López is another top target. Millo fans will have to get used to the sight of club idol Enzo Pérez in another shirt, though, after the veteran agreed a move back to Estudiantes 12 years after last starring in La Plata.

Perhaps the biggest move so far, at least for those of us who worship infuriating, mercurial football geniuses, took place in Rosario. Newell's pipped Boca to the signature of Ever Banega, repatriating the playmaker after 16 years (barring a short loan spell in 2014 back home) in Spain, Italy and Saudi Arabia. At his best, Banega can be a delight to watch, though depending on his fitness and general mood those performances can be frustratingly infrequent.
In any case, this summer transfer period is still only just getting started and there should be many more moves to come across the top flight, though it is likely that few if any will have quite the global, not to mention financial impact as the sales of the two Superclásico wonderkids.

-TIMES

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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